“It was a kind of nostalgia, like the immense sadness of a world at dusk. It was a sadness, a missing, a pain which could send one soaring back into the past. The sorrow of the battlefield could not normally be pinpointed to one particular event, or even one person. If you focused on any one event it would soon become a tearing pain. It was especially important, therefore, to avoid if possible focusing on the dead.”
A quick literary shout-out: Hard to read and harder to put down, Bao Ninh’s The Sorrow of War, which I read on my plane ride back from Norfolk, is arguably the best anti/war novel I’ve read in over a decade. (I’ll always have a soft spot for Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, but the surrealism and absurdity of those two seem a world apart from the brutality of Ninh’s book.) Graphic and harrowing to the last, Sorrow tells the story of Kien, a North Vietnamese soldier full of youth and promise in the heady days of 1964. Unlike virtually everyone he knows, however, Kien actually manages to survive the Vietnam War to its conclusion in 1975, only to discover that peace remains an elusive ideal, and memory a cruel mistress.
A kindred spirit to All Quiet on the Western Front, Ninh’s book doesn’t pull any punches — There are dark moments and harsh visions herein that will remain with me for some time to come. Still, it’s a very powerful book, and one worth reading if you have the strength for it.