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.