Best Books about Vietnam

Blogs - Vietnam: Jan. 3, 2018

Reading about a country is a good way to gain deeper insights. While there are plenty of travel guides and cookbooks about Vietnam, serious reads are somewhat lacking. However, there are several classic and Pulitzer-winning books. Below is our take on an essential reading list.

1. Ticket to Childhood (2014) by Nguyen Nhat Anh

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The best selling book by the best selling author of Vietnamese contemporary literature, the original version of Ticket to Childhood was published in 2008, and has since gone through over 50 printings.

This is a story told by a man who looks back on his childhood, alternating with the child version of himself. Nguyen Nhat Anh said that he wrote this book not for children, but for those who were children once. He won the S.E.A. Write Award for this work.

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2. The Sympathizer (2015) by Viet Thanh Nguyen

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When a debut novel by a Vietnamese-American received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2016 and a number of other literary awards, it simply had to draw attention.

The University of Southern California professor based his story partly on the life of Pham Xuan An, a North Vietnamese spy who became famous after his death in 2006. With humour and style, the author also presents fresh perspectives in contrast to Hollywood blockbusters’ interpretations of the American War.

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3. The Quiet American (1956) by Graham Greene

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A classic of English literature, Greene’s novel is set in the final years of the French Indochina War in Vietnam, mentioning in particular Hanoi, Nam Dinh and Saigon. It is well worth reading for its masterful storytelling and haunting reflections on war and love.

The story is narrated from the cynical viewpoint of British reporter Fowler, showing sympathy for the Vietnamese people whose life was disrupted by the war, and objection to the idealistic innocence of young Pyle, sent from America to carry out a mysterious mission in Saigon.

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4. Dumb Luck (2002) by Vu Trong Phung

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First published in Hanoi in 1936, the novel is a satire of the modernisation rage in Vietnam during the late colonial era. It follows the absurd and unexpected rise within colonial society of a street-smart vagabond named Red-haired Xuan, while providing a panoramic view of late colonial urban social order.

Dumb Luck is the most famous work by Vu Trong Phung, which used to be banned in Vietnam until 1986, translated by Peter Zinoman and Nguyen Nguyet Cam of the University of California, Berkeley.

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5. Vietnamese Children’s Favorite Stories (2015) by Phuoc Thi Minh Tran

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Published in 2015 by Tuttle Publishing, it won two children’s book awards that year. It is part of a series of children’s folktales from the East.

The stories are retold in English by librarian Phuoc Thi Minh Tran. As introduced on the publisher’s website, “stories in which integrity, hard work and a kind heart triumph over deception, laziness, and greed—as gods, peasants, kings and fools spring to life in legends of bravery and beauty, and fables about nature.”

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