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The Best of Vietnam War Fiction

While Dog Soldiers is not really a “war novel,” it is an in-depth, brutal look at how the war affected American culture in some ways.The hippie culture. The drugs. The sex. The killing of squirrels. Okay, I made that last one up.

This has definitely been an eye-opening read for me, as I was born after Vietnam and am not much of an expert on heroin drug rings. This isn’t a book you’re going to take home to mom, unless your mom is running a heroin drug ring. In which case, she might find it helpful.

The book is an entertaining read. It’s nothing for which I would say, “You have to read this!” But it’s definitely a page turner.

All that aside, reading Dog Soldiers has piqued my interest in Vietnam War fiction, so I pulled this Best Fiction of Vietnam War list from Amazon to see what’s out there.

Here’s some of the best of the best on this topic:

The Things They Carried:I read this book in college and remember loving it. Is it a novel? Is it a collection of short stories? Whatever it is, Tim O Brien paints a grim picture of physical and psychological consequences for the men who fought in the Vietnam War.

Paco’s Story: The description of this novel reminds me a lot of the movie Born on The Fourth of July, starring Tom Cruise. Paco Sullivan survives a Viet Cong attack in which everyone else dies. He’s crippled and nearly dead when discovered, and eventually returns home to face a brutal life in the U.S. Written by Larry Heinemann, Paco’s Story won The National Book Award.

The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam: I love the concept of this novel, though I haven’t read it. The story is told from the perspective of Kien, a former North Vietnamese soldier as he recollects how the war changed his life, country, and the people around him. According to Publishers Weekly, the novel is a “rambling and sometimes nearly incoherent but emotionally gripping account of the Vietnam War.”

Going After Cacciato: Another classic Tim O’ Brien Vietnam War novel, this one won the 1979 National Book Award. One private leaves his post in Vietnam to walk 8,000 miles to Paris for peace talks. The remaining members of his squad go after him. Presumably, chaos ensues.

The Short-Timers: This novel was the basis for Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. The Short Timers is a semi-autobiographical novel by former Marine Gustav Hasford about his experience in the war. The book is broken into three different sections, with three different writing styles.

I’ve only read one–The Things They Carried--of those five, but I’m not a huge war novel guy.

How about you? What else is out there?

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21 Comments Post a comment
  1. I read Paco’s Story for a class in college. Some of the scenes of violence/sex/torture still torment me. I think I was too young to have read such brutality.

    Like

    March 8, 2012
    • Now I’m interested in it. But I’ll never have the time.

      Like

      March 8, 2012
  2. Dominick Sabalos #

    The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman, comes to mind almost immediately. It might be set mostly in the distant future (and partly in the now-inaccurate past), but it is completely about the Vietnam War and is a great portrayal of its effects.

    Maybe I’m not in a position to really have opinions on Vietnam, but it’s a brilliant book anyway.

    Like

    March 8, 2012
  3. You should definitely check out Dispatches by Michael Herr. He pulls no punches, and his writing is excellent. It’s usually classified as creative non-fiction and is based off his experience as a reporter in Vietnam. And it’s another one you might not want to take home to mom.

    It was used as source material for parts of the movie Full Metal Jacket.

    Like

    March 8, 2012
    • I remember hearing about this. Might have even read some of it in college. Can’t remember. Good suggestion.

      Like

      March 8, 2012
    • Second the Dispatches recommendation. This is the best book I’ve read about Vietnam.

      I’d also check out Robert Olen Butler’s collection A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain. Stories that are not “about” the war in the same way as some of the other books you mention, but that deal with the fallout of the war from the Vietnamese perspective.

      Like

      March 8, 2012
      • I’m even more interested in stories told from the Vietnamese perspective. Thanks for the rec.

        Like

        March 8, 2012
      • Chris #

        If you’re interested in stories from the Vietnamese perspective – you should try “For the sake of all living things” by John M. Del Vecchio – the central character is Cambodian and provides an amazing insight from “the other side”

        Like

        March 23, 2012
  4. Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes. It was one of the best novels of 2010, and i’m willing to bet it will be required reading for students of history in the years to come. Very powerful book.

    Like

    March 8, 2012
  5. I read the short story “The Things They Carried” from Tim O’Brien’s short story collection in a literature class in college. It was definitely one of the best short stories I have ever read, and I learned a lot about writing from looking back on it. I think it is important that things like “war novels and short stories” are written, especial short stories, since they are a little more accessible to exposing war for what it is. It helps make war more of a reality for those on the home front. Maybe, one day, war will be more of a last resort than a display of prowess for the nations because of these realistic depictions of war.

    What is that saying? “Old men start wars and young men fight them.” Something like that, but so true. Wonderful list. Necessary genre.

    Like

    March 8, 2012
  6. I’ve read quite a few war books, not really by choice but there just seems to be a lot of them floating around and I’ll read pretty much anything. Must say Dog Soldiers sounds really intriguing. So far my favourite war themed book as been hands down ‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks, it was amazing, one of the best books I’ve ever read, http://tobagostars.wordpress.com/2011/12/03/birdsong-by-sebastian-faulks/

    Like

    March 8, 2012
  7. I read the things we carried my sophomore year of high school.
    i remember being annoyed about having to read a war novel, but the first chapter had me hooked i loved it

    Like

    March 8, 2012
  8. I’m laughing at your comment about not bringing Dog Soldiers home to mom unless she runs a heroin ring. But think, Mom may have been a hippie or “freak” during era of Dog Soldier…

    Like

    March 8, 2012
  9. Why can’t donald and daisy be together in the inheritance cycle?

    Like

    March 9, 2012
  10. Sue J #

    Cracker: The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata is an excellent book. It’s considered YA (a teen read) but don’t let that stop you from reading it. The author did great research to make the story realistic. You don’t hear much about the use of dogs in the military but they have been valuable ‘soldiers’ since WWI. This is the only fiction book I have been able to find about it. I did see a non-fiction book about military dogs and their handlers, but I don’t remember the name. The author also provided resource info – there was a website about a group that keeps a record of the dogs, collects photos from members, organizes reunions of dog handlers, etc. Interesting and moving subject.

    Like

    January 9, 2013
  11. DJ #

    Just published a novel “Dark Days for White Knights”. The story of a young man who belives so strongly in his destiny that he loses touch with his humanity. The novel chronicles his downward spiral into the butality of war, and his quest to recover something of what the war has taken. Check it out at Badgley Publishing Company or any of the on-line book stores. Let me know what you think

    Like

    June 13, 2013
  12. Jim Schumock #

    David Halbertam’s only novel, “One Very Hot Day”‘ published in 1967 after LBJ demanded the Pulitzer Prize winning, twenty-five or six year old be removed from VN. Halbertam shows why we would lose written when weentered. He was the first American journalist to cover the war beginningg in 1964, Kent Anderson’s “Sympathy for the Devil”, novel by Green Beret(two tours), “Tiger the Lurp Dog” Kenn Miller. The Vietnamese epic poem is “Kim Van Kieu” by Nguyen Du, a must read for a deeper understanding of the culture. O’Brien’s “Going After Cacciato” is well worth reading. Richard Currey’s “Fatal Light” and Larry Heineman’s “Close Quarters”. I find all earlier recommendations to be excellent, especially “Dispatches”.

    Like

    August 27, 2014
  13. “Sand in the wind” by Robert Roth is the best Story of a grunts tour of duty.

    Like

    March 3, 2015
  14. deborahdfleming #

    Please add my hippie/Vietnam War novel Without Leave published in 2014 by Black Mountain Press about a Navy man who goes AWOL and meets and falls in love with an artist and college dropout in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district. The trajectory takes them to Colorado, Ohio during the turbulent spring of 1970, the Sierra Nevada, Subic Bay in the Philippines, and finally San Francisco again.Plenty of drug and sex scenes and some violence.

    Like

    April 2, 2015
  15. Thanh #

    People still argue over the fact that if The Things They Carried is a novel or a short collection. Why don’t you add Dispatches By Michael Herr to your list? I found it on http://quintessentialcollectionvietnam.com/reviews/five-best-reads-on-the-vietnam-war.

    Like

    December 9, 2015

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  1. El lastre de una guerra « En la Ciudad de los Vientos

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