Vietnam Books


Vietnam Child and Lantern
Photo by Sergio Carbajo

Destination: Vietnam

Book: Catfish and Mandala


  • Good Morning Vietnam
  • Apocalypse Now

Continuing my tour of Southeast Asia…

Because I loved the seaside of Thailand and the countryside of both Thailand and Cambodia, I yearn to travel to Vietnam.  A friend recommended for the traveler’s library the excellent Vietnam book Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam by Andrew W. Pham. It is a realistic portrait of Vietnam by a Vietnamese man who goes back to his country after the war. His family had escaped to America when he was ten, so he is more American than Vietnamese when he returns as a thirty-year-old. The reader benefits by his recollections of what used to be and observations of what is.

Pham later wrote the Vietnam book,  The Eaves of Heaven: A Life in Three Wars about the period between 1940 and 1976 in Vietnam. I have not read that one, but if I schedule a trip to Vietnam, it will definitely be on my list of travel literature. My first knowledge of Southeast Asia came from a missionary who visited the small town I lived in as a girl. He talked about this jungle-covered land called Indochina, ruled by the French. He told us that there were rebels who wanted to overthrow the French and he saw a future of war and great difficulties for the gentle people who lived there.

In the literature of Vietnam, we include the many Vietnam books where returning American soldiers have tried to express their feelings about the American war, as the Vietnamese call it, but I have shied away from war books. Americans have also tried to come to terms with their feelings about the Vietnamese war in several films, notably the dramatic The Year of Living Dangerously, the comic Good Morning Vietnam, and the, well, apocalyptic, Apocalypse Now. I have seen all of these, and appreciate the brilliance of Apocalypse Now, but feel I learned more from The Year of Living Dangerously.

Andrea Ross, an American who, with her husband, runs a bed and breakfast in Cambodia and a tour company called Journeys Within, responded to my request for reader suggestions for ten places with this list of Vietnam books. (The comments are Andrea’s):

The following are considered some of the better-than-most accounts of what it was like to be an American soldier in Vietnam:

  • Born on the Fourth of July, by Ron Kovic
  • Dispatches,by Michael Herr
  • Chickenhawk, by Robert Mason

You can learn more about Andrea at her web site, Journeys Within.

Your turn. What are your thoughts about Vietnam? What have you read? What movies about Vietnam do you like?

Photo by “Amit (Sydney)” from Flickr under Creative Commons license

About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

4 thoughts on “Vietnam Books

  1. Your reference to Vietnam caught me, as we have a piece about songwriters from the country.

    By the way, your amazonify plug-in seems not to be working.


    1. Michael: Thanks for letting me know about the links. That’s an old plug in and unfortunately, I haven’t been able to track down all the bad links it left behind. Hope you catch Kerry Dexter’s frequent music and travel articles here.

  2. Ahhh, yes, Graham Greene. I should read The Quiet American. I love your description of the Continental Hotel, and hope somebody will respond to tell us what it is like now. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Other worthy works on Vietnam before the “American War” there: Bernard B. Fall’s “Hell in a Very Small Place” and “Street without Joy” These provide history lessons with literary quality. Graham Greene’s “The Quiet American” expresses the bitter old Euro-imperialist’s disgust with Americans’ brash optimisim about saving the Vietnamese for liberal democracy. Sadly, it can now be considered prophetic.(It led me to pay a visit to the old Continental Hotel during the late war. The open bar-veranda seemed to invite VC grenade tossing, but I was told the management bribed the bad guys to stay away. In 1969 it still had the old colonial “puka” feel about it: waiters in clean white jackets delivering cocktails to international patrons while a few miles away the war roared on. Anyone visited there recently? Has anything really changed or does it remain a restful cul-de-sac of colonial history?)

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