September 19, 2009

Take Me Vietnam

Take Me Away Saturday

As a lover of books that take place in different cultures and are about different cultures, Take Me Away is a way to share this love with you, my readers and friends!

Each week I feature a different country or culture (ex. Cherokee, Jewish, etc. that do not have a specific country per se) and list some books that can transport you there.

I am keeping a map of the countries we visit and a list of the specific cultures, which you can see at the bottom of this post. Here is a list of where we've been so far:
Triple Threat
Inuit Culture Egypt
Australian Aborigines
Brazil India
Sierra Leone
Sioux Nation
Spain Japan
Haiti Kenya
Norway Taiwan
Turkey Chile

This week we are visiting the Southeast Asian country of Vietnam. Here is an easy to see map of Vietnam:
For more information on this country, click here.

Click on the titles of the books to read reviews and/or purchase the book.

Windows to Vietnam: A Journey in Pictures and Verse by Scott C. Clarkson
A 178 page book of more than 140 incredible color photographs and 30 related poems about modern Vietnam. This masterful work of a California photographer and Tennessee poet is a collection of photographs and contemporary verse addressing the culture, people and dynamics of Vietnam today. Publisher: Cheshire Publishing Co. Genre: Travel, Photography

Vietnam: A History by Stanley Karnow
Provides a comprehensive look at both sides of the Vietnam War through a collection of personal tales and delves into the political and military events in the United States and elsewhere that originally caused the war and the brought it to an end. Publisher: Penguin Genre: History, War

The Killing Zone: My Life in the Vietnam War by Frederick Downs, Jr.
In 1967 Frederick Downs arrived in Vietnam as a green but determined twenty-three-year-old infantry lieutenant. In the months of brutal combat to follow, Downs was to face the most lethal and loathsome dangers, all the while following orders, keeping his men as safe as he could, and searching for the conviction and then the hope that the war was worth the sacrifice. He would leave with a shattered body, but a spirit still intact. The Killing Zone is his story, and it stands tall with the best books ever written about men in combat. Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co. Genre: Military; War

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
One of the first questions people ask about The Things They Carried is this: Is it a novel, or a collection of short stories? The title page refers to the book simply as "a work of fiction," defying the conscientious reader's need to categorize this masterpiece. It is both: a collection of interrelated short pieces which ultimately reads with the dramatic force and tension of a novel. Yet each one of the twenty-two short pieces is written with such care, emotional content, and prosaic precision that it could stand on its own. The Things They Carried depicts the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and of course, the character Tim O'Brien who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three. They battle the enemy (or maybe more the idea of the enemy), and occasionally each other. In their relationships we see their isolation and loneliness, their rage and fear. They miss their families, their girlfriends and buddies; they miss the lives they left back home. Yet they find sympathy and kindness for strangers (the old man who leads them unscathed through the mine field, the girl who grieves while she dances), and love for each other, because in Vietnam they are the only family they have. We hear the voices of the men and build images upon their dialogue. The way they tell stories about others, we hear them telling stories about themselves. With the creative verve of the greatest fiction and the intimacy of a searing autobiography, The Things They Carried is a testament to the men who risked their lives in America's most controversial war. It is also a mirror held up to the frailty of humanity. Ultimately The Things They Carried and its myriad protagonists call to order the courage, determination, and luck we all need to survive. Publisher: Broadway Genre: Historical Fiction, War

Children of the Dragon: Selected Tales from Vietnam by Sherry Garland
"Once upon a time in old Vietnam," begins "The Raven and the Star Fruit," exemplifying the spell of enchantment cast over these half dozen stories. If the setting is exotic with its banyan trees and lotus blossoms, water buffalo and tigers the classic themes are universal. They include talking animals and beautiful princesses, requited and unrequited love as well as familiar human flaws. For instance, in the above-mentioned tale a raven rewards the generosity of a poor couple by leading them to an island of treasures, while the same opportunity has disastrous results for the husband's foolish elder brother and his greedy wife. Garland (Shadow of the Dragon) places each story within its historical, geographical and cultural context, enriching readers' understanding of Vietnam and its people. "The Legend of the Monsoon Rains" recounts the ongoing dispute between the Lord of the Mountains and the Lord of the Seas for the hand of the emperor's daughter followed by a discussion of Vietnam's crops and weather; the tale of "The Boatman's Flute" highlights the country's transportation and governmental systems. Hyman (A Child's Calendar) complements the richly embroidered retellings with jewel-like India ink and acrylic illustrations. From the fluid pattern of stripes on a tiger's back (for a pourquoi tale) to the dark sweep of a maiden's hair and lissome bend of a willow branch, the artist applies her signature flowing lines and graceful artistry; she captures all the romance and beauty of the stories and their setting. Ages 8-12. Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books Genre: Children's Books, Folklore & Mythology

The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland
When she is forced to leave Vietnam, a young girl brings a lotus seed with her to America in remembrance of her homeland. “Exquisite artwork fuses with a compelling narrative—a concise endnote places the story effectively within a historical context—to produce a moving and polished offering. Ages 6-10. Publisher: Houghton Miffin Harcourt Genre: Children's Books

Of Rice and Men: A Novel of Vietnam by Richard Galli
A comic novel about the Vietnam War? Has that much time passed? In fact, this is not the first, but as Vietnam novels go, it's pretty funny. Guy Lopaca arrives in Vietnam fresh out of the elite Army Language School and is assigned to work for civil affairs, units set up to win hearts and minds by providing technical help to villagers. Guy quickly realizes the language he learned from American Ph.D.s bears no resemblance to any spoken in Vietnam, and much of the book recounts his slapstick efforts at communication. Of the 73 episodic chapters, 60 or so feature Guy; other POV draftees include ex-business student Paul Gianelli and aspiring academic Arthur Grissom. To his credit, Galli, a former lawyer and civil affairs interpreter in Vietnam who was a member of GIs for Peace, makes cultural misunderstanding a two-way street. And despite the humor, few characters are comic clich├ęs: no officer is more than mildly incompetent; enlisted men yearn for home but do their jobs, more or less. The war is horrible, but occurs mostly out of sight. This is a clever, quirky, surprisingly uncynical view of Vietnam. Publisher: Presidio Press Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Comic Novel

The Book of Salt: A Novel by Monique Truong
Drawing inspiration from a fleeting reference in the Alice B. Toklas Cook Book (1954) to two "Indochinese" men who at one point cooked for Toklas and Gertrude Stein, Truong has concocted a delectable fictional memoir. Faced with the decision about whether to accompany Stein and Toklas to America, return to Vietnam, or remain in France, Binh, the Vietnamese cook who has labored for the unconventional ladies he has dubbed "The Steins," for about five years, reflects back on his troubled life and times. Interspersing his own story with that of his illustrious employers, Binh meanders back and forth through time, recounting his youthful misadventures in Vietnam, his time toiling as a galley hand aboard a sailing vessel, and his years spent cooking for the Steins and indulging in the joys and perils of the seamier side of Parisian nightlife. Using salt as a metaphor for "food, sweat, tears and the sea," and interweaving the narrative with suggestions of ingredients, recipes, and exotic dishes, Truong provides a savory debut novel of unexpected depth and emotion. Publisher: Mariner Books Genre: Historical Fiction

This is not, of course, an exhaustive list. Do you want to share book recommendations that features Vietnam? Or do you want to share other thoughts? Please leave a note in the comments!

Be sure to check back next week for another trip in books! Here is what is coming up for the next Take Me Away Saturday posts:

September 26: South American country of Peru
October 3: The country of New Zealand (Fiction Edition)

The Take Me Away Map of Countries Visited:

Cultures Visited:
Sioux Culture
Australian Aborigines
Inuit Culture


  1. Great list! These posts are so informative!

  2. Vietnam, China sounds like a great place to visit! The books sound great and they will inform lots of info about the country! :)

  3. What a lot of research you put into this weekly post!! The things they carried looks very interesting.

  4. Great choice for this week. Vietnam is a country that I only associate with the Vietnam War but I know there is so much more than that to learn!!

  5. I remember reading a book about Vietnam and the Vietnam War in high school--there are still parts of that book that are burned into my mind. Can't remember the title of it, though.

  6. I gave you an award --

  7. Amazing post, Rebecca! You are, in my opinion, the #1 Book Blogger and a great friend too!

    How did you get so amazing, Ha????? I want to know your secret...LOL

    Seriously, every week you stun me with the tremendous amount of effort and love you put into your posts for us. You really are special and I appreciate it so much!

  8. Another great post on my favorite feature. One I personally think deserves a BBAW award!! Thanks again for the great ideas.
    The Book of Salt sounds interesting and is going on my list.

  9. Hi!
    I read The Things They Carry by Tim O'Brien and loved it. The Book of Salt sounds like a wonderful book. I'll be putting this on my TBR list. Thanks for the info on all these books. Have a great day!


  10. I love these, this has made me start looking for books from different cultures/parts of the world, and I have your blog to help me find some books! Thanks so much!

    Here's an award for you at my blog, and hope you have a good week.

  11. John Shors' new novel Dragon Boat is set in Vietnam and deals with street children there. It's a good read to add to these you've mentioned.

  12. What an interesting feature, I'll be sure to check the older ones too. Thanks for sharing all this information. :-)


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