Literature and Historical Fiction Books

Vietnam and Cambodia

The Vietnam war ended in 1975 and authors, many who were soldiers during the war, wrote about their wartime experiences and their discontent with the communist government. American war veterans also wrote stories about their time in Vietnam and the trauma’s it left. War veteran and writer Tim O’Brien (‘The Things They Carried’):"War stories aren't always about war, per se. They aren't about bombs and bullets and military manoeuvres. A war story, like any good story, is finally about the human heart”.

At the turn of the 21st century in a communist Vietnam that has become more open to the world, a second generation of writers has emerged abroad and inside Vietnam. Nowadays writers are less focused on the legacy of war and write stories about modern everyday life.

Vietnam - Literature and Historical Fiction Books

 
The Best Historical Fiction Books Vietnam Duong Thu Huong Paradise of the Blind

The story begins in the 1980s when Hang, a young Vietnamese woman working in in a textile factory in Russia receives a telegram asking her to visit her uncle in Moscow, because he is very ill. During the long train journey to Moscow she tells us her story of her life in Vietnam. About her mother, Que and her father’s sister, Aunt Tam. Que, is the traditional Vietnamese woman who has given herself over to the will of the Communists. Aunt Tam on the other hand is the opposite, an independent wealthy women who still believes in democracy and capitalism. Hang’s mother and her aunt spend their lives hating each other and manoeuvre for the love and attention of Hang, and in doing so they destroy any chance for a successful and happy future for Hang.

 Paradise of the Blind
Duong Thu Huong, 1988

During the Vietnam war Duong Thu Huong led a Communist Youth Brigade sent to the front. She became the first woman combatant present on the front lines to chronicle the conflict. In the period after Vietnam’s reunification in 1975 she became an advocate of human rights and democratic political reform and as a result was expelled from the Vietnamese Communist party in 1989 and temporarily imprisoned for her writings and outspoken criticism on corruption in the Vietnamese government. For 11 years Duong Thu Huong was not allowed to leave Vietnam. Most of her books were banned in Vietnam, but they were published abroad. She currently lives and writes in Hanoi.

The novels ‘Beyond Illusions’ (1987) and ‘Novel without a Name’ (1996) also acclaimed international recognition.

In 2013 'The Zenith' was published about the final months of the life of Ho Chi Minh at an isolated mountain compound where he is imprisoned both physically and emotionally.

More Bestsellers and Recommended Books Vietnam 

In 1925 Joseph Sherman visits Saigon, the capital of French colonial Cochin-China, on a hunting expedition with his father, an US senator. 

In the next 50 years Sherman returns to Vietnam as a traveller, a soldier and a reporter. It narrates the story of Sherman’s fascination for this land, his love for Lan and the lives of three families from 1925 until the last helicopter left Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.

Trinity Fields - Bradford Morrow, 1995

Kip and Brice are born in Los Alamos in 1944. Since they are small they are inseparable friends and they rebel against their fathers, who work on the engineering of the atomic bomb. 

When becoming adults in the mid 60’s their lives separate. Brice becomes an anti-war activist and Kip goes to Vietnam and is involved into the hidden war in Laos. Whilst Kip is soldier in Southeast Asia, Brice marries Jessica, but Kip also loves Jessica. Friends and family assume that Kip died in the war, but more then 20 years later he suddenly appears at the doorstep. How far does Kip go to  get back what is has lost?

Ru - Kim Thúy

Through the first years of the Vietnam war, An Tinh and her family live a bourgeois Saigon life, with servants and live-in French and Vietnamese chefs. Then the communist army arrives and An Ting her family loses everything except for a few diamonds sewn into shirt collars and a small cache of gold. With their last valuables they buy their escape out of Vietnam. They board a decrepit boat with hundreds of others Vietnamese refugees with destination a muddy and crowded Malaysian refugee camp. Eventually the family arrives in Quebec.

This story is based on the authors life. Kim Thúy fled Vietnam on a boat leaving everything she knew behind in her home country. When the family arrived in Quebec, they seized every opportunity to build a new life, but the memories of her past remain.

For 5 years Binh is a personal cook for a family in Paris. In 1934 Bình accompanies his employers to the train station for their departure to America. But what will Binh do? Follow his employers to America, stay in France or return to his native Vietnam. Overthinking this dilemma his thoughts return back to his youth and family in Saigon, his travels at sea as a cook and his arrival in Paris. In Flashbacks Binh reveals his sadness at having abandoned his mother and his native land, his loneliness and the rejection by his father, because of Binh's love affairs.

The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam - Bảo Ninh, 1990

This is the story of a North Vietnamese soldier, Kien. Kien tells us about his life before the war and the harsh experiences of combat in the jungle and highlands of Central Vietnam, whilst also recalling his feeling for love and his relationship with Phuong. After the end of the Vietnam war Kien struggles to leave the past behind and rebuild his life in Hanoi.

 

“What the book does is tell us how the youth of North Vietnam, who were despatched South in their thousands, were as frightened and as vulnerable as the American conscripts on the other side. They grew up rapidly or they died”. The Independent, 1994

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The Sympathizer: A Novel

It is April 1975, just before Saigon will fall into the hands of the North Vietnamese communist army.  A South Vietnamese general of the army with the help of his captain draws up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of Vietnam. But the trusted captain, the ‘Sympathizer’, is a spy for the North Vietnamese. How can an intelligent and idealistic person go so far as to betray the ones he loves most.

Bestsellers Books Vietnam The Sympathizer: A Novel
Viet Thanh Nguyen 2015

Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Monkey Bridge 
Lan Cao 1998 

When Mai was 13 years old she was airlifted from Saigon in 1975. In the US she is reunited with her widowed mother. When her mother gets ill Mai hears her talk in her sleep about her father, Baba Quan, who was to accompany her to the US but never arrived at the agreed-upon rendezvous. Through secrets letters written by her mother, Mai eventually discovers more of her family’s past and the true character of her grandfather. 

Bestsellers Books Vietnam Monkey Bridge Lan Cao
The Best We Could Do
Thi Bui 

It is April 1975, just before Saigon will fall into the hands of the North Vietnamese communist army.  A South Vietnamese general of the army with the help of his captain draws up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of Vietnam. But the trusted captain, the ‘Sympathizer’, is a spy for the North Vietnamese. How can an intelligent and idealistic person go so far as to betray the ones he loves most.

Bestsellers Books Vietnam Thi Bui

March 2017 

Bestseller Books Vietnam Catfish and Mandala

Catfish and Mandala:

A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam 

Andrew X. Pham 2000

American raised Andrew X. Pham starts a bicycle journey through Asia and ends up in Vietnam, the land where he was born. But nothing seems familiar. He meets relatives and listens to their stories of the past, like about his father who was a Prisoner of War of the Vietcong. In the United States he felt he didn’t belong, does his experience in Vietnam give him any answers about his cultural identity?

Autobiography

Bestseller Books Vietnam When Heaven and Earth Changed Places
When Heaven and Earth Changed Places: A Vietnamese Woman's Journey from War to Peace

Le Ly Hayslip  1989

When Le Ly Hayslip was twelve years old U.S. helicopters landed in Ky La, her tiny village in central Vietnam. As the government and Viet Cong troops fought in and around Ky La, both sides recruited children as spies and saboteurs. Le Ly was one of those children. She eventually escaped the war and started a new life in America. When after many years she returned to her homecountry and meets the beloved ones that stayed behind the memories of the war years are stirred up once more.   

Autobiography

The Khmer Rouge‘s seizure of power in 1975 and the subsequent Pol Pot persecution and genocide of those it deemed to be ‘intellectuals’ had a devastating effect on Cambodian literature.

Following the defeat and deposition of the Khmer Rouge, in 1979, Cambodian authors wrote about the brutal ordeals and the fear that they and the Cambodian people suffered under the dictatorship of Pol Pot. Contemporary literature still focuses on Cambodia’s traumatic history.

Cambodia

 

A Cambodian Odyssey - Haing Ngor and Roger Warner, 1988

Born in Cambodia in 1940, Haing Ngor went to medical school and became an obstetrician and a surgeon, he had a clinic in Phnom Penh. But in 1975 with the take-over of the Khmer Rouge, his life together with that of millions other Cambodians was swept away. All his family members were among the early victims of the execution squads, being quilty of the 'crime' to have prospered under the old regime. Haing Ngor was sent to a labor camp. Only in secrecy could he serve as a doctor for his fellow Cambodians.  Despite hardships, like torture and hunger Haing never gave in. 

Finally, after four years of horrors in the labor camp, he escaped to Thailand, were after a year in a refugee camp he went to America.

 

Haing Ngor  was the award winning actor in the movie ‘The Killing Fields'. He played the role of Dith Pran. Haing Ngor was murdered in LA in 1996.

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers - Loung Ung, 2000

Loung Ung lives in Phnom Penh with her family and is five years old when the Khmer Rouge shatter everything around her when they march into Phnom Penh in 1975. Loung’s family flee their home and move from village to village to hide their identity, their education and their former life of privilege. Her father was a government official and is seen as a enemy of the state by Pol Pot’s dictatorship. The family disperses and Loung becomes a child soldier. Other family members are forced to work into different labor camps across the country. Only when the war has come to an end is Loung reunited with her beloved family.

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More Bestsellers and Recommended Books Cambodia 

The Rent Collector

Camron Wright, 2013

Sang Ly, a young mother, struggles to survive by picking through garbage in Cambodia's largest municipal dump. But she wants her son to have a better life and she embarks on a journey in hope of a better future. Although the book is a work of fiction, it was inspired by real people living at Stung Meanchey.

Bestseller Books Cambodia The Rent Collector Camron Wright
In the Shadow of the Banyan
Vaddey Ratner, 2013

The childhood of seven year old Raami ends when the Khmer Rouge army enter the streets of Phnom Penh. Over the next four years the life of Raami and her family is shattered by Pol Pot’s genocide. Her father is killed and most of her family perished and she and her mother are exiled to the countryside into forced labour. But Raami tries to survive by holding on to the memories of the magical stories that her father once told her.

Bestseller Books Cambodia Vaddey Ratner