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Whether you have plans of heading to Vietnam soon or you like exploring a destination through its literature, reading books about Vietnam is a great way to acquaint yourself with this beautiful and historic country.
From colonization to the Vietnam War to reunification, Vietnam has a rich and complex past. Most of the famous books about Vietnam were written by American authors and focused on the American experience. But not anymore. Books by Vietnamese authors are slowly getting translations and more Western readers are taking notice.
This list of 25 books about Vietnam includes works of American veterans, classic novels, and contemporary books that will help you appreciate the vibrant culture and history of Vietnam.
Fiction books about Vietnam War
Inarguably, Vietnam War, or what is known as the American War to the Vietnamese, is one of the biggest events to define the nation. It is one of the darkest times in history and a great number of Vietnam War books have been written by both Vietnamese and American authors.
1. Saigon: An Epic Novel of Vietnam by Anthony Grey
An extensive history lesson, this book starts with Joseph Sherman’s first visit to Saigon in 1925 and ends with the Fall of Saigon in 1975. The novel weaves stories of four families: the French Devrauxs, the American Shermans, and the Vietnamese Trans and Ngos.
Spanning over five decades, the book provides a great overview of the events leading to the Vietnam War. From the French colonization to World War II to the Cold War and the Communist Revolution, Saigon gives context for the war while telling an epic saga of love, nationalism, and familial ties.
2. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Sympathizer is an amalgamation of genres. It’s a Vietnam War book, an immigrant narrative, a historical and political commentary, and a spy novel rolled into one. The unnamed narrator is a half-French, half Vietnamese Communist double agent and his exploration of identity is gripping and intriguing.
Born in Vietnam and raised in America, Viet Thanh Nguyen is the first Vietnamese-American to win the Pulitzer Prize. He’s a strong voice on the refugee crisis and an important figure in Vietnamese literature.
3. Fields of Fire by James Webb
Written by a former Marine who fought in Vietnam, Fields of Fire is a powerful work that follows three soldiers who endured An Hoa Basin in 1969. Apart from being an intense combat novel, it lets you get inside the heads of the people who fought the war and the impacts of this agonizing time.
4. Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
One of the most highly-rated books about Vietnam, this New York Times bestseller is an arresting account of the Vietnam War. It tells the story of a young Marine lieutenant and his comrades. Ultimately, it demonstrates what it’s like to be a young man at war.
Filled with narratives of combat, suffering, endurance, and terror, this is easily one of the most emotional reads about war.
5. The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam by Bao Ninh
Bao Ninh’s The Sorrow of War is refreshing simply because few Vietnam War books show the North Vietnamese perspective.
This novel follows Kien, a North Vietnamese infantryman, his experiences during the war, and his struggles to overcome memories of combat. Bold, engaging, and controversial, this book was published against government wishes in Vietnam because of its nonheroic and non-ideological tone.
6. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
One of the best books about the Vietnam War, The Things They Carried is a poignant collection of short stories about a platoon of American soldiers stationed in Vietnam.
Not a memoir but a semi-autobiographical piece, some of the stories are based on Tim’s own experiences. The stories are all linked to one another and tackles themes of love, loss, brutality, suffering, and morality.
Non-fiction books about Vietnam War
To better understand Vietnam War, non-fiction accounts are worth exploring. Told by the Vietnamese and Americans trapped in the conflict, these stories about the Vietnam War are heartbreaking and instructive at the same time.
7. When Heaven and Earth Changed Places: A Vietnamese Woman’s Journey from War to Peace by Le Ly Hayslip
Hayslip’s extraordinary memoir is not for the faint of heart. Raw and unfiltered, she takes us through her horrifying experiences from when the Americans landed in Central Vietnam back when she was just twelve. Forced to be a Vietcong spy, imprisoned, tortured, raped, lost family members, and finally escaped to the U.S., hers is a story of horror, courage, and enduring faith.
8. A Vietcong Memoir: An Inside Account of the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath by Truong Nhu Tang
Truong Nhu Tang met Ho Chi Minh when he was a student in Paris. He later became a staunch adversary of America. He went on to become the Vietcong’s Minister of Justice. But by the end of the war, he fled to Paris in disillusionment over the cause he once championed.
Tang’s narrative is remarkable for its candidness. It’s also notable that it’s one of the best Vietnam War books that give an ideological, and not military, perspective.
9. The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam
How did this happen? Why did America get involved in Vietnam in the first place and why did they lose? These are the questions The Best and the Brightest sought to answer.
Written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and historian, this book gives the inside story of how America’s foreign policy and important figures in leadership led to this quagmire.
10. Where the Ashes Are: The Odyssey of a Vietnamese Family by Nguyen Qui Duc
Where the Ashes Are begins in 1968 when the author was only nine years old and his father was a high-ranking civil servant in South Vietnam. As the Vietcong takes over, the family gets scattered – the author with his uncle in America, his father in a Saigon prison, his mother in reeducation. This one’s a stirring account of guilt and what war does to families.
Books about Vietnamese refugees
The war ended in 1975 but the suffering of the Vietnamese didn’t. Refugees and exiles struggled with assimilation and suffered isolation, identity loss, and racism. These books on the Vietnamese diaspora immortalize these themes and are essential to understanding the complexities of the refugee experience.
11. Monkey Bridge by Lan Cao
Monkey Bridge comprises two tales about the war and immigration: one from Mai, who was a child when she left Vietnam, and one from her mother who brings with her Vietnamese culture, traditions, and superstitions as well as family secrets. Together, these stories of cultural identity and familial ties make for a haunting read.
12. The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
A gut-wrenching and beautifully illustrated graphic novel, The Best We Could Do examines the anguish of immigration, the strength of family, and the meaning of home. Offering a picture of the scars war leaves in a family, this is one of the most revealing and heartbreaking Vietnamese-American memoirs.
13. Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen
One of the most compelling books about the immigrant experience, Things We Lost to the Water follows Huong and her two sons who arrives in New Orleans in 1978. Her husband remains in Vietnam as she struggles to make a new home in America.
Huong’s sons, Tuan and Binh, grow up without a father, both searching for a sense of identity. Tuan tries to reconnect with his Vietnamese heritage while Binh struggles with his sexuality. This novel is worth picking up if you’re looking for a humanized storytelling devoid of Asian stereotypes.
14. Stealing Buddha’s Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen
A coming-of-age story that involves food? Where do I sign up?
Bich Minh Nguyen’s memoir is a creative spin on the classic assimilation story. She grew up with Vietnamese staples like pho, cha gio, and banh xeo. But in the super-white and conservative Grand Rapids, Michigan, all she craves for are Pringles, Kit Kats, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese – preservative-filled American “delicacies” that she saw as a way of fitting in. Ultimately, Stealing Buddha’s Dinner is part somber, part humorous, and full of wit.
15. Catfish and Mandala by Andrew X. Pham
Winner of several awards, Pham’s Catfish and Mandala is a story of a solo bicycle voyage around the Pacific Rim to Vietnam – a journey Pham took in pursuit of cultural identity. In Vietnam, he’s taken for a Japanese or Korean, and in the United States, he’s seen as anything but American. Any immigrant searching for a sense of belongingness can relate.
Books about Vietnamese history
Vietnamese history is much more than the war with the Americans. These books about Vietnam take us through a rich and colored past.
16. The Quiet American by Graham Greene
Search ‘books about Vietnam’ and nine times out of ten, Graham Greene’s The Quiet American will show up.
Taking place during the First Indochina War, the titular American Alden Pyle is sent by Washington on a mission to Saigon, where the French Army struggles against Vietnamese guerillas. Often considered as a foremost Vietnam novel by almost everyone except the Vietnamese, this book is a cautionary tale about “innocent” causes and a lack of guilt over America’s involvement in most wars.
17. Dumb Luck by Vu Trong Phung
One of the most prolific and influential authors in the Vietnamese canon, Vu Trong Phung provides a scathing exposition of Vietnam’s modernization in the 1930s. The book, which was banned in Vietnam from the late 1930s until 1986, deals with themes of colonial capitalism and the transformation of traditional Vietnamese class and gender relations.
18. Vietnam: A New History by Christopher Goscha
If you’re looking for a book that gives a well-rounded history of Vietnam and not just the Vietnam War, this is it.
Covering a century of transformation from the late 1800s to the 1980s, Vietnam: A New History introduces generations of emperors, rebels, priests, and colonizers who left complicated legacies in Vietnam. From the Chinese to the French to the Japanese rule and the wars fought in and around the country, no stone is left unturned.
19. The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family by Duong Van Mai Elliott
Spanning more than a hundred years beginning in the mid 19th century, The Sacred Willow weaves together stories of four generations that stretch through different historical periods in Vietnam. Based on family papers, dozens of interviews, and a wealth of research, this is both personal and national in perspective. It’s one of the longest books about Vietnam but also one of the most enlightening.
20. Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong
A former member of the Communist Party, political activist Duong Thu Huong has written some of the most unflattering books about Communism and post-war Vietnam. Though one of the most popular contemporary Vietnamese authors, her books are banned in Vietnam because of their disparaging contents.
In Paradise of the Blind, she tells the story of three Vietnamese women struggling to survive in a patriarchal and corrupt society. Feminist and politically charged, this is a direct call-out to the injustices done in post-war Vietnam.
Books about Vietnamese culture
Vietnamese culture is just as complex as its illustrious history. Scroll down for books that take a deeper dive into the customs, way of life, and even gastronomic delights of this fascinating nation.
21. Ticket to Childhood by Nguyen Nhat Anh
A bestseller in Vietnam most likely because of the young population, Ticket to Childhood is a lighthearted story of a man looking back on his life. An excellent portrait of an easygoing and innocent childhood, it effortlessly captures the local culture as well. Regardless of your nationality, this book will easily take you on a trip down memory lane.
22. The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb
One of the most atmospheric novels set in Vietnam, The Beauty of Humanity Movement is about Vietnamese-American Maggie and a group of Hanoi residents. While seeking out clues to the fate of her father who stayed behind during the Fall of Saigon, Maggie meets a soup vendor and a tour guide. These three give a contemporary take on cultural identity and life beyond the war.
23. Eating Vietnam: Dispatches from a Blue Plastic Table by Graham Holliday
In his early twenties, journalist and blogger Graham Holliday decided to not just travel to Vietnam but to live there. He moved to Hanoi and embarked on a quest to find real Vietnamese food.
Eating Vietnam is part memoir, part travel guide, a mouthwatering journey through the back alleys and boulevards of Hanoi. Anyone who’s been to Vietnam and has sampled authentic Vietnamese food will agree that this will make you want to fly to Vietnam, stat.
24. A Dragon Apparent: Travels in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam by Norman Lewis
Published in 1951, A Dragon Apparent is one of the most enduring books about Vietnam and its neighboring countries. It even inspired Graham Greene to go to Vietnam and write The Quiet American.
The only book of its kind at the time, Norman Lewis’ work journeyed deep into Southeast Asia. His book captures the charm and grandeur of the ancient civilizations, the lands’ beauty, and the culture clashes between the French and Vietnamese.
25. Vietnam: Rising Dragon by Bill Hayton
An apt conclusion to this list of books about Vietnamese books, Vietnam: Rising Dragon is a comprehensive look at modern Vietnam’s politics, economics, and culture. While the eyes of the West are trained on China and India, journalist Bill Hayton sees a rising Asian power in Vietnam, while questioning whether the country will head towards capitalism and ultimately, democracy.
Which of these books about Vietnam will you be reading first? Tell us in the comments below!