Butler's Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of stories about the aftermath of the Vietnam War and its impact on the Vietnamese is reissued. Includes two subsequently published stories that complete the collection's narrative journey, returning to the jungles of Vietnam.
I enjoyed these stories very much!
This collection of short stories won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993. The stories are connected by setting and culture - all of them feature immigrants from Vietnam who have settled in New Orleans, Louisiana after the Vietnam War. It loses rating points from me only because the collection is a bit uneven - a few of the stories are not quite as good as the others. That being said, the stories that shine really SHINE. I loved these voices and the complex memories of a culture that has been displaced. It manages to be heart-breaking and triumphant at the same time.
"I like the way fairy tales start in America. When I learn English for real, I buy books for children and I read, 'Once upon a time.' I recognize this word 'upon' from some GI who buys me Saigon teas and spends some time with me and he is a cowboy from the great state of Texas. He tells me he gets up on the back of a bull and he rides it....After that, a few years later, I come to America and I read this word and I ask a man in the place I work on Bourbon Street in New Orleans if this is the same. Up on and upon. He is a nice man who comes late in the evening to clean up after men who see the show. He says this is a good question and he thinks about it and he says that yes, they are the same. I think this is very nice, how you get up on the back of time and ride and you don't know where it will go or how it will try to throw you off."
There are a total of seventeen stories in this collection, and some of them have appeared in other publications, but this is the first time they are all collected together in one book. My very favorites were Mr. Green, The Trip Back, Fairy Tale, Letters to my Father, Snow, Salem, and Missing, but they are all worthy of reading.
My favorite was "Love", about a former spy for the American military who had routinely used his power to get rid of men who pursued his beautiful wife, but once they are in America and the wife is wandering again, the husband visits a voodoo papa to get rid of the competition.
Not all is sweetness and light, but the reader is shown the heart of the characters. There is darkness and some of the stories are disturbing, but all ring true. This 1993 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction felt so intimate to me that the people were, in my mind, real.
The prose is lyrical without becoming flowery. The characters are fascinating. The insight is remarkable.
This is one of those rare books that I will want to read again.
I love Marguerite Duras and Andre Malraux, French writers who write about Vietnam from their French or French / Indo-Chinese perspective or Graham Greene's The quiet American, which is set in Vietnam, but written entirely from the British perspective. With Olen Butler I had the feeling that the "interest" was suspect, almost unsavory. Americans do not have the same colonial experience, and hence, so it seems, their interest in other nations seems superficial, not as deep and natural.
I found these stories unreal, boring and meaningless.