The Sorrow of War

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The Sorrow of War
Author Bao Ninh
Original title Thân phận của tình yêu (Identity of love)
Translator Frank Palmos
Vo Bang Thanh
Phan Thanh Hao
Country Vietnam
Language Vietnamese
Publisher Hội nhà văn
Publication date
1990
Published in English
1994
Pages 283

The Sorrow of War (Vietnamese: Nỗi buồn chiến tranh) is a 1990 novel by the Vietnamese writer Bao Ninh. The novel was Ninh's graduation project at the Nguyen Du Writing School in Hanoi and "has been translated into many languages, including German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Portuguese, Danish, Norwegian and Polish" (Nguyen 880).[1] It tells the story of a soldier who is collecting dead bodies after a battle and then begins to think about his past. The novel won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.[2]

Original Version and English Version[edit]

Bảo Ninh achieved prominence in Hanoi with the first version of the novel, Thân phận của tình yêu (literally, The Destiny of Love), which was published in roneo form (similar to photocopying) before 1990. Soon afterwards Phan Thanh Hao translated it into English and took the manuscript to the British publishers Secker & Warburg. Geoffrey Mulligan, an editor there, commissioned Frank Palmos, an Australian journalist who had reported on the Vietnam War and written about it in his book Ridding the Devils (1990), to write an English version based on the raw translation. Bao Ninh had read Phan Thanh Hao's Vietnamese translation of Ridding the Devils and was willing to accept this arrangement. After several meetings with both the author and the translator, Hao, in Hanoi, and journeys throughout Vietnam to check details, Palmos wrote the English version over seven months . It was published in 1994 under the title The Sorrow of War.

Counterfeits of the English version became widely available in Vietnam, aimed at the tourist trade.[3] Counterfeit sales have reportedly far exceeded sales of the original edition.

The Sorrow of War was not published in Vietnamese, under the title Nỗi buồn chiến tranh, until at least ten years after its publication in English. It has since been translated into fourteen other languages, usually from the English version rather than from the Vietnamese original.

Overview of the Novel[edit]

The Sorrow of War opens with a depiction of soldiers on a postwar mission to collect the bones of fallen comrades for reburial. Thus begins the non-linear narrative by Kien, a North Vietnamese soldier during the Vietnam War, chronicling his loss of innocence, his love, and his anguish at the memories of war.

Kien rides in the truck searching for the remains of fallen soldiers in the Jungle of Screaming Souls and recalls that this is where the 27th Battalion was eliminated except for him. He then undergoes a series of flashbacks that tie the novel together. The main theme tying these flashbacks together is the love affair between Kien and his childhood sweetheart, Phuong. Kien writes a novel about it, but decides to burn it. Then a mute girl whom Kien has begun seeing when drunk, and has been bouncing his ideas off, obtains the text. The novel ends with a passage by a new narrator, who explains that he has received Kien's novel from the mute girl .

Reception[edit]

Michael Fathers of The Independent noted how both American and Vietnamese cultural depictions of the Vietnam War had tended to be full of romanticisation and stereotyping, and wrote: "The Sorrow of War soars above all this. ... It moves backwards and forwards in time, and in and out of despair, dragging you down as the hero-loner leads you through his private hell in the highlands of Central Vietnam, or pulling you up when his spirits rise. It is a fine war novel and a marvellous book."[4]

The British author-photographer Tim Page and others have compared the novel favorably to Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front.

The British newspaper The Independent judged The Sorrow of War the Best Foreign Book of 1994. The prize money was equally shared by the author, Bao Ninh, the translator, Phan Thanh Hao, and Frank Palmos, who prepared the English version for publication.

In 2010, the British Society of Authors listed the translation as one of the Best 50 Translations of the previous century.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Nguyên, Đình-Hoá (Autumn 1995). "The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam by Bao Ninh". World Literature Today 69 (4): 880–1. doi:10.2307/40151830. 
  2. ^ Staff writer (1994-05-31). "Soldier's tale wins foreign fiction award". The Independent. Retrieved 2012-04-04. 
  3. ^ The original author of this entry bought his counterfeit copy from a vendor in Hanoi.
  4. ^ Fathers, Miachel (1994-02-13). "Putting a name to Vietnam". The Independent. Retrieved 2012-04-04.