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):
- Vietnam, Now: A Reporter Returns by David Lamb. A Vietnam war reporter David Lamb returns to Vietnam thirty years later to cover the peace and give us an insight into the war, the country and its people.
- Catfish and Mandala, by Andrew X. Pham. Part memoir and part travel narrative. Tells of the authors escape from and then return to Vietnam
- When Heaven and Earth Changed Places (Tie-In Edition), by Le Ly Hayslip. A Vietnamese woman’s journey thru war to peace.
- The Girl in the Picture: The Story of Kim Phuc, the Photograph, and the Vietnam War , by Denise Chong. The story of Kim Phuc, the little girl captured in an award winning photograph as she ran from her village which had been accidentally napalm bombed.
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