Eight writers recommend classics and modern classics from Vietnam and the diaspora that touch on colonization, wars, and life after war—all told through the Vietnamese kaleidoscope.
Vietnam’s two wars in the past century often make it hard to look beyond warfare, and truly understand the country’s values, culture and people. It is, indeed, a daunting task to sort out the best classic and contemporary literary voices from Vietnam. As Wayne Karlin, the American editor of the Voices from Vietnam series, wrote, “I always hesitate to prepare such a list, since any list inevitably will exclude too many authors and works. My apology in advance to all of them!”
Of the thirty-nine books recommended below by eight authors, translators, and researchers, there are names that repeated (asterisked titles appeared on multiple lists), must-reads for their historical importance: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Sympathizer, Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt for its inventiveness, and Lan Cao’s Monkey Bridge, as the first novel by a Vietnamese American about the war and its aftermath.
For translated works, Bao Ninh’s The Sorrow of War, which offers a unique perspective from a North Vietnamese infantryman, is considered one of the greatest war novels from any country. In poetry, eighteenth-century Vietnamese poet Ho Xuan Huong—an independent-minded, resistant woman in a Confucian society—is known for her frank humor and erudition.
Amy Quan Barry
Saigon-born American poet, novelist, and professor at University of Wisconsin–Madison.
· Spring Essence: The Poetry of Ho Xuan Huong by Ho Xuan Huong, translated by John Balaban (Poetry, Vietnam, Classic)*
· The Book of Salt by Monique Truong (Novel, US, Contemporary)*
· The Boat by Nam Le (Short stories, Australia, Contemporary)
Vietnamese-American writer at the Huffington Post, editor of New America Media, author of Birds of Paradise Lost, and PEN/Open Book Award winner.
· Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong (Poetry, US, Contemporary)*
· Monkey Bridge by Lan Cao (Novel, US, Contemporary)*
· The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui (Graphic memoir, US, Contemporary)
· Enfer rouge mon amour by Lucien Trong (Novel, France, Contemporary)
· Riz Noir by Anna Moï (Novel, France, Contemporary)
· Such A Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961–63 by Marcelino Truong, translated by David Homel (Graphic memoir, France, Contemporary)
Hanoi-based Vietnamese poet, translator, and former teacher and journalist.
· The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh, translated by Phan Thanh Hao, edited by Frank Palmos (Novel, Vietnam, Contemporary)*
· Behind the Red Mist by Ho Anh Thai, translated by Nguyen Qui Duc, edited by Wayne Karlin (Short story, Vietnam, Contemporary)*
· Crossing The River by Nguyen Huy Thiep, translated and edited by Dana Sachs and Nguyen Nguyet Cam (Short stories, Vietnam, Contemporary)
· No Man’s Land by Duong Thu Huong, translated by Nina McPherson and Phan Huy Duong (Novel, Vietnam, Contemporary)
· Dumb Luck by Vu Trong Phung, translated by Peter Zinoman and Nguyen Nguyet Cam (Novel, Vietnam, Contemporary)
· Black Dog, Black Night: Contemporary Vietnamese Poetry, edited by Paul Hoover and Nguyen Do (Poetry, Vietnam, Contemporary)
· Distant Road—Selected Poems of Nguyen Duy by Nguyen Duy, translated by Ba Chung Nguyen and Kevin Bowen (Poetry, Vietnam, Contemporary)
Vietnamese-American author of the novel Monkey Bridge, and professor of law at the Chapman University School of Law.
· Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong, translated by Nina McPherson and Phan Huy Duong (Novel, Vietnam, Contemporary)*
· The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Novel, US, Contemporary)*
· The Lotus and the Storm by Lan Cao (Novel, US, Contemporary)
Vietnamese-American author of the award-winning novel The Book of Salt, essayist, and intellectual property attorney.
· Where the Ashes Are: The Odyssey of a Vietnamese Family by Nguyen Qui Duc (Memoir, US, Contemporary)*
· Vietnamerica: A Family’s Journey by GB Tran (Graphic memoir, US, Contemporary)*
· The Book of Perceptions by Truong Tran, photographs by Chung Chuong Hoang (Poetry, US, Contemporary)
· Ru by Kim Thuy, translated by Sheila Fischman (Novel, Canada, Contemporary)
· Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (Novel, US, Contemporary)
· In the Mynah Bird’s Own Words by Barbara Tran (Poetry, US, Contemporary)
· Slander by Linda Le, translated by Esther Allen (Novel, France, Contemporary)
Researcher on Vietnamese culture, and professor at the University of Cambridge.
· The Tale of Kieu by Nguyen Du, translated by Huynh Sanh Thong (Poetry, Vietnam, Classic)*
· Selected writings of Ho Chi Minh (Anthology, Vietnam, Contemporary)
Vietnamese-American author of Dragonfish: A Novel.
· Catfish and Mandala by Andrew X. Pham (Biography, US, Contemporary)*
· The Gangster We Are All Looking For by Le Thi Diem Thuy (Novel, US, Contemporary)*
American author, editor of the Voices from Vietnam series, and professor at the College of Southern Maryland.
· Birds of Paradise Lost by Andrew Lam (Short stories, US, Contemporary)*
· The Stars, the Earth, the River by Le Minh Khue, translated by Dana Sachs and Bac Hoai Tran (Short stories, Vietnam, Contemporary)
· A Sense of Duty: Our Journey from Vietnam to America by Quang X. Pham (Memoir, US, Contemporary)
· Red Thread by Teresa Mei Chuc (Poetry, US, Contemporary)
· Against the Flood by Ma Van Khang, translated by Phan Thanh Hao, and Wayne Karlin (Novel, Vietnam, Contemporary)
· When Heaven and Earth Changed Places by Le Ly Hayslip (Memoir, US, Contemporary)
· The Other Side of Heaven: Post-War Fiction by Vietnamese and American Writers, edited by Wayne Karlin, Le Minh Khue, and Truong Vu (Anthology, Contemporary)
· Lament of the Soldier’s Wife by Dang Tran Con and Doan Thi Diem, translated by Rewi Alley (Poetry, Vietnam, Classic)
· The Cemetery of Chua Village and Other Stories by Doan Le, translated by Rosemary Nguyen, Duong Tuong, and Wayne Karlin (Short story, Vietnam, Contemporary)
Author photos in cover image: Vu Tran, Lan Cao, Monique Truong (photo by Michele Panduri Metalli), Hoang Hung (photo by Nguyen Dinh Toan), Andrew Lam.