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A Passage from The Sorrow of War, by Bao Ninh

*Starting the excerpt here.*

"So when the raid stopped I jumped out of the crater, telling him to stay there for a while. 'I'm going to find some cloth and bandages,' I told him. 'I'll be back soon.'

"He blinked at me, the rain pouring down his face, mixing water, tears, and blood. Outside the crater the jungle was destroyed, with trees broken and the ground devastated. Troops from both sides had withdrawn so I searched for a while and found a bag with emergency medical equipment in it, then turned to go back to help him.

"But I 'd been silly. By then it was dark and I had no idea where the crater was. The trees around me had been broken off and branches scattered all around the place. The ground was pockmarked with hundreds of craters. Where was the one I 'd been sharing with the Saigonese? Darkness fell, the heavy rain continued and the water flowed in small streams down the slopes. 'Hey, Saigon, Saigon, hey!' I called, running around trying to find him. I fell into a crater. The water came over my knees. That meant that someone sitting inside a crater would now have water up to his chest.

"The more I tried to find him the worse the situation became. All I did was exhaust myself. When dawn at last came and the rain eased, you wouldn't believe what I saw. Horrifying. All the bomb craters were filled to the rim with water.

"I pushed off. I was going a little mad. I began to imagine his death: water slowly rising on him, a barbaric death stuck in the mud, helpless as the water came over his belly, his chest, his shoulders, his chin, his lips, then reached his nostrils ... and he started to drown. He'd died still hoping desperately that I'd come back and save him, as I promised. In which crater had he died?

"Now, even after many years, whenever I see a flood I feel a sharp pang in my heart and think of my cruel stupidity. No human being deserved the torture I left him to suffer."

After many years of peace Phan was still tormented by the memory. Would the drowned man ever stop floating through his mind?

The sorrow of war inside a soldier's heart was in a strange way similar to the sorrow of love. It was a kind of nostalgia, like the immense sadness of a world at dusk. It was a sadness, a missing, a pain which could send one soaring back into the past. The sorrow of the battlefield could not normally be pinpointed to one particular event, or even one person. If you focused on any one event it would soon become a tearing pain.

*Excerpt ends here.*


That was a short passage from the novel "The Sorrow of War" by Bao Ninh. The Sorrow of War is about a Vietnamese soldier's Vietnam War and post-war accounts and memories. The story is told in a very similar vein to Erich Maria Remarque's "All Quiet On The Western Front" and is all the more shocking when you remember that all of these memories are true and really happened to this man. Truly, this book is filled with sorrow and is haunting as it is enchanting and beautiful. The myth of the war experience certainly needs to be taken down, and this book does an excellent job of dismantling the phony glory of war and exposing it for the hell it is.

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