I almost completely missed this book! If it wasn’t for the Karl Marlantes quote on the back cover I would never have picked it up and what a tragedy that would have been. This is an outstanding novel that deserves all the accolades and then some. It is so witty and cutting in it’s dissection of America’s attitude to the Vietnam War (or as the Vietnamese call it the American War). It is not just an anti-war novel but it is THE anti-Vietnam War novel bringing a perspective to the war, the conflict and it’s aftermath, that has been purposely ignored all these years.
The novel is told in the form of a confession by a North Vietnamese spy. He recounts his life growing up in Vietnam, the bastard son of a French father and Vietnamese mother. His time at an American university and his recruitment as a communist sleeper agent in South Vietnam. The story opens with the fall of Saigon in 1975 and the chaos of the American evacuation. Our narrator flees with countless other refugees to America where he bides his time in the land of his enemy. But far from his homeland, where the war seems to now be over, he begins to doubt his commitment to the cause and what the cause is that he is supposedly fighting for.
Viet Thanh Nguyen injects the story with a truly wicked sense of humour that reminds me a lot of The Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka. His complete deconstruction of American Vietnam War films is utterly brilliant and you will never watch Apocalypse Now the same way again. He also expertly captures the confusion, the cynicism, the betrayals and the outright hypocrisy which has framed the Vietnam War over the last forty years. The heart of the novel though is the dichotomy that is the entire Vietnam War. The actual divided country of North and South that continued after reunification, the polarity of what actually happened in the war versus America’s portrayal of it and the two minds of our narrator as his mind is slowly torn in two over loyalty, love and freindship.
Like All Quiet On The Western Front this is a novel that cannot and should not be ignored. If you have read any literature, fiction or non-fiction, on the Vietnam War this needs to be on your shelf and in your hands as soon as humanly possible.