The Quiet American, by Graham Greene
This classic Vietnam novel takes place in the 1950s. Graham Greene anticipates the transfer of Western involvement from the French to the Americans, and expresses it through a love triangle between an Englishman (the narrator), an American and a young Vietnamese woman. Though this novel is set primarily in Saigon, Greene has a deft and subtle hand in drawing the characters and dynamics that were part of the evolution to present day Vietnam politics and society.
The Sorrow of War, by Bao Ninh
This is a fairly typical war novel, told from an atypical perspective—it’s the story of a North Vietnamese veteran reliving horrific experiences of the American-Vietnamese war. The author is a survivor of the American War who fought in the North Vietnamese Army, but Bao Ninh is kind to neither the North Vietnamese Army nor the Americans and its allies. The story is told from the rooted viewpoint of one who fights on the land where he lives. The language is poetic and the images sharp; it is a narrative full of a universal weariness, wisdom, experience and pain, and subverts the notion propagated in all wars that the enemy is something less than human.
The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
This is a sequence of fictional stories about the Vietnam War, connected by recurring characters and interwoven strands of plot and theme. It aims to summarize America’s involvement in Vietnam, and help Americans come to terms with that experience in the years that followed. This collection of stories is characterized by stark realism and raw emotion.
Last Night I Dreamed of Peace, by Dang Thuy Tram
Dang Thuy Tram has been called the Vietnamese Anne Frank. She was a doctor from a good family in Hanoi who volunteered for the North Vietnamese Army in 1967. Her diaries were smuggled out of Vietnam by an American GI who disobeyed orders to burn them, and surfaced almost 40 years after Dang was killed by American soldiers. She expressed not only the daily details of life working as a guerrilla surgeon, subject to bombing and strafing, but also the hopes and dreams of a young idealistic woman within hellish circumstances. This book is extremely sad but deeply revealing—Dang died when she was in her mid-20s, but her words and spirit have inspired a generation of young Vietnamese who were born after the war.
Mandala and Butterfly, by Andrew Pham
This is a travel memoir by a Vietnamese immigrant who bicycles the length of Vietnam in search of the heritage he feels he lost when he left the country at the age of 8. He evokes the smells, sounds, and people of Vietnam, and the work resonates with his cultural and emotional connections to Vietnam.
In Retrospect, by Robert McNamara
This is a memoir by America’s Secretary of Defense during much of the Vietnam war. The book is revealing in the patient history it presents of the escalation of the war, as well as in the psychology behind the escalation.
Dispatches, by Michael Herr
In 1967 Michael Herr went to cover the Vietnam war for Esquire magazine. Unlike his colleagues at dailies like the New York Times or the Associated Press, Herr only had to file a story every three months or so. This gave him a much longer wavelength on which to absorb the people, landscapes, battles and power dynamics of the war, and he expresses his insights with a naked vision that often attains poetic beauty within the horror of the war. Many great writers, including John Le Carre, Hunter S. Thompson and Oliver Stone have called this the best book on the Vietnam War ever written.
The Girl in the Picture, by Denise Chong
Kim Phuc was nine years old in 1972 when she was severely burned by napalm and was photographed as she ran from her village. The photograph became one of the most famous in the 20th century, and was a factor in turning public opinion against the war. In this book, Denise Chong tells the story of the war and those who were born into it through Kim Phuc. It’s a revealing history of the war, as well as a beautiful testament to the strength of the human spirit—Kim Phuc is alive, and lives in Canada where she works as a spokesperson for peace.
Dien Cai Dau, by Yusef Komunyakaa
This beautiful book of poems is drawn from the author’s experience in Vietnam, where he served as a journalist for Stars and Stripes. The landscape and experience of Vietnam is distilled into hard, sharp language and imagery that slowly unfolds in one’s imagination. This book is a must for poetry lovers who visit or reside in Vietnam.
Fodor’s See It Vietnam
A tourist guide to Vietnam for a variety of budgets. Includes hotels, restaurants, excursions, with sections on history and culture.
Historical and Cultural Sites Around Hanoi, by Nguyen Vinh Phuc
This guide is published in Vietnam (in English) and is available in Hanoi bookstores. It’s a local perspective on the cultural landscape around Hanoi, and is great for planning weekend excursions.