Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Fall of Saigon: Books About the Vietnam War

On April 30th, 1975, Saigon was overrun by North Vietnamese forces, ending the Vietnam War. To mark the day, here's a list of books about the war.


Rock 'n' Roll Soldier: A Memoir by Dean Ellis Kohler with Susan VanHecke. After graduating from high school in 1965 Dean Kohler's rock band landed a record deal and then he was drafted into the US Army. Despite the fear and death and shooting, Kohler knows how lucky he is to not be on the front lines in the jungle, to not be in the Deep Serious. Things also take a better turn when his commanding officer orders him to form a rock band. Kohler has to balance the two sides of himself, is he a musician? Or a soldier? This is an excellent look at the first part of the war. (Kohler is home before the Tet offensive.)

Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam edited by Bernard Edelman. This collection of letters home, written by American service personel in Vietnam, blew me away in high school and continues to move me today. It's a powerful collection.

Vietnam #1: I Pledge Allegiance by Chris Lynch. Beck, Morris, Ivan, and Rudi are best friends that make a pledge-- if one of them is drafted, they'll all join up to keep each other safe. When Rudi is drafted, his friends keep their pledge, each joining a different branch of the service. The first book in the series follows Morris, who joined the Navy. Each character has his own book. The second, Sharpshooter follows Ivan, who joins the army and becomes a sharpshooter. The entire series is currently available.


Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers. Richie Perry can't afford college. He's stuck in Harlem with few prospects, so he enlists and goes off the Vietnam. There are the basics of a war story-- fear, fighting, death, trying to make sense of it all, trying to stay alive. But there's more to this one-- Perry and most of his unit enlisted for their own reasons, which goes against the standard Vietnam story we tell of draftees. Perry and many in his unit are black. While race isn't a major factor of Myers's story, it's there and sometimes it's an issue. Follow it with Sunrise Over Fallujah, about Richie's nephew's experiences in Afghanistan.

When Heaven and Earth Changed Places by Le Ly Hayslip. When Hayslip was 12, the war came her village. Both sides recruited children into the war effort, including the author who worked for the Viet Cong. After surviving horror and escaping to the US, she can't escape the war and returns to her country to try to make sense of it all. Published for adults, this was assigned reading in college. I do think it's one that older teens will get into.

Battle Fatigue by Mark Kurlansky. Growing up surrounded by WWII vets, Joel has always assumed that one day, he'll also go to war. But Joel's war is Vietnam and when the time comes, he can't bring himself to fight in a war he doesn't agree with, and must find a way to escape the draft-- either by becoming a conscientious objector or by going to Canada.


10,000 Days of Thunder: A History of the Vietnam War by Philip Caputo. Starting with French colonialism, before Dien Bien Phu, and going through the Fall of Saigon all the way to normalization of diplomatic relations between the US and Vietnam in the mid-90s, Caputo gives an amazing overview of the war. In addition to covering the battles and military action, he also covers the war on the homefront in this lavishly designed book full with photographs. It's a great introduction to the war for those who don't know its history, but is not to be missed by those that do.

Summer's End by Audrey Couloumbis. Grace's brother has burned his draft card, getting him kicked out of the house. To escape the tension Grace spends them summer with her grandmother, where she and her cousins all grapple with the effects of the war on their older brothers and in the community.

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. The main character in this collection of short stories is named Tim O'Brien, but these are works of fiction, although largely influenced by O'Brien's service during the war. Through these stories he examines different aspects of life before, during, and after, although largely focusing on the during and the experiences of Tim and his fellow members of Alpha company. Published for adults and often taught in school, this is good enough and accessible enough that teens that don't read it in class should (and will enjoy) picking it up by themselves.

What books about the Vietnam War would you add? Any other good ones from the prospective of the Vietnamese?

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  1. Great list! There was also a graphic memoir published in 2012 called Vietnamerica that would complement these titles quite well. (: I discovered it while making a pathfinder for Spiegelman's Maus back in March but still haven't gotten around to reading it yet.

  2. Oooo... I'm unfamiliar with Vietnamerica-- I'll have to check it out! Thanks for letting me know about it.


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