Bao Ninh's The Sorrow of War is a contrapuntal reading to American literature on the Vietnam War. But rather than stand in stark contrast to Tim O' Brien's The Things They Carried, The Sorrow of War is strangely similar, yet different at the same time. From a post-colonialist standpoint, one must take in account both works to get an accurate image of the war. The Sorrow of War is an excellent counterpoint because it is truthful. Tim O' Brien writes: ". . . you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil." (O' Brien, 42) Bao Ninh succeeds in this respect. And it was for this reason that the Vietnamese government initially banned The Sorrow of War. A thorough textual and historical examination of both the war and post-war experience of Vietnam reveals that its experience was similar to, if not worse than, that of America.
One of the more remarkable counterpoints of Kien/Boa Ninh's war experience is his view of American soldiers. For him, they were horrific, powerful, and inhuman. To American soldiers, the war was a journey into a strange world where snipers hid behind every bush. North Vietnamese soldiers had already fought for fifteen years and seen the country ripped apart. Now they were to go up against hundreds of thousands of fresh troops from the world's technological superpower. A little more frightening. This historical aspect is reflected in the text. For Bao Ninh, the enemy was not always a man that could only kill other men. "The diamond-shaped grass clearing was piled high with bodies killed by helicopter gunships. Broken bodies, bodies blown apart, bodies vaporized." (Ninh, 5) How...
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...sided fashion, one in which we have no sorrow for the "communists." But what we see is that Vietnamese soldiers were not fighting for communism, they were fighting because the government ordered them to. "The ones who loved war were not the young men but the others like the politicians, middle-aged men with fat bellies and short legs." (75) Repeatedly The Sorrow of War reveals the deep suffering of Vietnam. One can not say, however, that American soldiers returned unscathed. The most important thing we see when we read the two aforementioned works is not the differences, but the similarities. War is hellish and unnatural for both sides. In the aftermath, our common humanity becomes evident in universal suffering.
Ninh, Bao The Sorrow of WarNew York: Riverhead Books 1993
O'Brien, Tim The Things They Carried New York: Penguin Books 1990
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