Read A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler Online


Robert Olen Butler's lyrical and poignant collection of stories about the aftermath of the Vietnam War and its impact on the Vietnamese was acclaimed by critics across the nation and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993. Now Grove Press is proud to reissue this contemporary classic by one of America's most important living writers, in a new edition of 'A Good Scent from a StrangRobert Olen Butler's lyrical and poignant collection of stories about the aftermath of the Vietnam War and its impact on the Vietnamese was acclaimed by critics across the nation and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993. Now Grove Press is proud to reissue this contemporary classic by one of America's most important living writers, in a new edition of 'A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain' that includes two subsequently published stories -- "Salem" and "Missing" -- that brilliantly complete the collection's narrative journey, returning to the jungles of Vietnam....

Title : A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780802137982
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 269 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain Reviews

  • Cheryl
    2019-01-14 09:14

    Even as the light purple hues of dusk shifted into night, I sat still, completing this book. Never mind that the only reading light I had was the dim glare of outdoor lighting because by then, I was transfixed. I had been transported to another world and I only realized this once those gigantic Southern bugs started to land on my page and I heard the faint whimper of my dog as she stared at me through the sliding glass doors—probably wondering what in the world I was doing sitting outdoors without her. I had the great privilege to sit in on Butler's From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction seminar and now I see how his advice is indeed personal. In order to head back to the Vietnam of 1971, when he served as a Vietnamese linguist, he also had to transport himself from America, back to what must have been a dark time for him. I remember him telling a room full of students (paraphrasing this) that the test is not in the four hours that the writer goes back to this dreamlike state of imaginative trauma, rather, it is in how he or she manages to exist for the next twenty hours of real life, after he or she has revisited such a place. Reading this 1993 Pulitzer-prize-winner, you get a sense that Butler wrote these stories from where he dreams.Whenever a short-story collection adds a distinct checkmark to my reading experience, I often find myself flipping back through the pages with curiosity, closely examining each line just to understand the ‘how.’ It is in the bewitching voices of each Vietnamese character: young, old, male, female. Those first-person perspectives that drew me closer to each story. The haunting concoction of Vietnamese and American cultures. Butler took a huge risk when he decided to write about the challenges of the immigrant war survivor in America. That night, I found myself in the mind of a Vietcong soldier, a Vietcong defector, an American MIA, and a Vietnamese refugee. With each convincing story and compelling voice of the narrator, I was transported to Vietnam and then back to America, to immigrant settlements in Louisiana: like Versailles and Lake Charles. When you read short-story collections often, it is thrilling whenever you run across a collection whose thematic appeal stands apart in this genre because you know that years later, if you you need to point to a collection that encompasses Vietnam in such a way, you will point to this one.

  • Maciek
    2018-12-30 10:17

    Robert Olen Butler served in Vietnam 1969 to 1971 - first as a counter-intelligence agent, and then as a translator. In an interview he remembers the time he spent in the country:The army got me coming out of the University of Iowa, but they sent me to language school for a year before I went over. I spoke fluently from my first day there. And then I did work in intelligence for five months out in the countryside. I loved Vietnam and I loved the culture and I loved the people, I mean instantly. And had access to all of that in most ways other outsiders didn’t. I had contacts with woodcutters and farmers and fishermen and provincial police chiefs and so forth and then, this was in 1971, the unit stood down. Some units were starting to go home at that point. I got transferred to Saigon where I worked as a translator and administrative assistant for an American Foreign Service officer who was an advisor to the mayor of Saigon. So it was a civilian-clothes job. I lived in an old French hotel and I worked at Saigon city hall. But every night I would go out after midnight and wander alone into the steamy back alleys of Saigon where nobody ever seemed to sleep. I’d crouch in the doorways with people and talk to them. The Vietnamese people are perhaps the warmest, most generous spirit-people in the world, and they invited me into their houses, and into their culture, and into their lives. And of course, that shaped me as an artist. After the return to the U.S. he wrote stories, which were accepted and published by various literary journals, such as The Southern Review, The Hudson Review and New England Review. The reviews were good, too - some of the stories got reprinted in a volume of The Best American Short Stories, and in 1987 Butler received the Tu Do Chinh Kien Award from the Vietnam Veterans of America for outstanding contributions to American culture by a Vietnam veteran. he received broad recognition in 1993, when a collection of these stories - published a year before and titled A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain - was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.Many novels have been written about the Vietnam War - both by American and Vietnamese authors - but here the concept is new: Butler gives voice to the Vietnamese refugees to America, who have settled in southern Louisiana - near New Orleans. These stories explore the immigrant experience - the contrast between the immigrants and Americans, and the two countries - Vietnam and the United States - with their vastly different cultures and customs; the distant Far East is contrasted the definition of the West. Each of the stories is narrated in the first person by a different Vietnamese immigrant, and all are filled with a sense of longing and nostalgia for their past lives - their country with its natural beauty and way of life, specific places and moments, the friends and relatives they had to leave behind. The Grove reissue contains two additional stories - Salem and Missing - which are set in post-war Vietnam, and form a neat narrative coda.The Vietnam War ended in 1975, after the fall of Saigon, forcing more than three million Vietnamese to flee for safety - hundreds of thousands dying in the process of often dangerous crossing. The majority - around 1,4 million - settled in the United States. These refugees found themselves in a peculiar situation - their old country was taken away from them and transformed into something different, and the new country proved to be completely different, too. Like Tom Hank's character in The Terminal, they can't go home - and struggle to live in the new environment. Some stay together in hopes of preserving their heritage and culture, while others openly want to shed it. There are other Vietnamese here in Lake Charles, Louisiana - the protagonist of Snow remarks - but we are not a community. We are all too sad, perhaps, or too tired. But maybe not. Maybe that's just me saying that. Maybe the others are real Americans already.In Crickets, the Vietnamese man and his wife had a hard time adapting to American culture and life. Their American-born son adapted easily and shows little interest in Vietnamese language and culture, making his father think of a childhood game as a way of becoming closer to the boy. In Relic, a Vietnamese man sees America as a land of opportunity. He wishes to break away from the Vietnamese community but his business depends on it. He feels that the other Vietnamese are preventing him from becoming fully American and more succesful. The relic of the title is a shoe that was supposedly worn by John Lennon when he was shot to death. The man sees the shoe as a symbol of America, and longs to own the other shoe so his collection can be complete, and he can be complete as a person, an American person. But even he lives in the past: he remembes the wife he left in Vietnam, who did not want to abandon her country and chose to stay there with their children, but expresses no desire to return to them; he wishes to get away from the Vietnamese community as he feels that it drags him back to Vietnam, and become a part of the American community, pursue his own American Dream and estabilish his own identity in his new country.Butler's Vietnamese characters are unique, with their own quirks and distinctive characteristics. In Love a jealous husband used to bring doom on his wife's suitors in Vietnam, and struggles to do the same in the U.S.; he journeys to New Orleans to search for a voodoo master who will put a curse on the man whom he suspects she is having an affair. Letters from my Father is narrated by a Vietnamese girl, who has grown up without her American father, and with whom she is having a difficult and distant relationship. She discovers a stack of his old letters to the U.S. government, where he writes with fury and longing, demanding his daughter be allowed entrance to the U.S. and accusing the government of deliberately keeping them separate for years, arguing that if she was white they would welcome her with open arms. In The Trip Back a Vietnamese woman eagerly awaits to be reunited with her grandfather, and has been arranging for him to live in the U.S. for years. He is finally allowed to immigrate to America and her husband drives to pick him up from the airport. There he discovers that the elderly man has gone senile, and lives so deeply in the past that he is able to remember the color and smell of the South China Sea, but has no recollection of his granddaughter, who loves him deeply. Her husband fears that he too will become like the old man, unable to remember both his homeland and his wife. Mr. Green is narrated by a Vietnamese woman, who remembers her grandfather. The story touches on the theme of subjugation of women in Vietnamese society before and during the war, with the grandfather telling her that she can't pray for the souls of her ancestors because she is a female. She came to the U.S. with his parrot, Mr.Green, whose favorite saying is "not possible", and tries to find her identity in a society experiencing the sexual revolution and second-wave feminism, coping wit the feelings of love and obligation, resentment and death.Fairy Tale is an all-American tale of succes, and seems to be written to spite critics accusing the author of putting on a yellowface and exploiting Asian characters - it's an unbearably cliched story of a Miss Noi (as in Hanoi without the Ha), a Vietnamese prostitute who works as a stripper in a New Orleans bar and meets a G.I. who asks her out. It's almost ridiculously stereotypical and predictable, but very consciously so - it's very self-aware of all its flaws, and by this it turns them into its advantages. It's also full of humor, employing the peculiar feature of the Vietnamese language where the meaning of the word depends on how it is said - one man wants to woo Miss Noi by trying to say "May Vietnam live for ten thousand years" in Vietnamese, but what he says - very clearly - is "The sunburnt duck is lying down". These stories also employ elements of mysticism and Vietnamese folklore, such as the beautiful Mid-Autumn, where an expectant mother tells a fairy tale to her unborn child, about the emperor who went to the moon and found happiness there, remembering her lover who died in Vietnam. In the title story a dying man is visited by the ghost of Ho Chi Minh, with whom he has worked as a youth; Ho confessess to his friend that he is not at peace, and political tensions between the Vietnamese Americans play in the background. A Ghost Story is a story which the narrator claims to be true, about the ghost of a beautiful Vietnamese woman, Miss Linh, who saved his acquaintance from a disaster. When he found her again to thank her, she devoured him alive. The man telling the story also has seen the woman two times, and although she spared his life he is also devoured - by a ghost of a whole country, which continues to torment him in his new American life. In America he is a ghost, riding the Greyhound in an attempt to escape his demons. The last two stories Salem and Missing are narrated by two soldiers, Vietnamese and American, who stay in the country. Salem comes from the pack of cigarettes that the Vietnamese soldier finds on a body of an American GI that he has killed - along with the picture of his girlfriend, and Missing is the only story in the collection narrated by an American. It's a reversal of the theme of Vietnamese immigrants trying to live in American society - here an American is trying to live among the Vietnamese in their country and culture The narrator is a U.S. soldier who has stayed in Vietnam after the war and married a Vietnamese girl, and together they raise their daughter. He has been living in a village with his family in peace for a long time, until one day someone brings an American newspaper which has a photo of him taken from a distance, recognizing him as one of the soldiers who went MIA and implying that he needs help to be brought back from Vietnam to America. But the narrator thinks differently - "I'm not missing. I'm here", he says, and he feels it - he is in his village, with his people and family.The stories in this collection are written with care and compassion, giving voice to those who are largely unheard in this particular branch of fiction. It is remarkable that such a deeply felt and personal book about Vietnamese immigrants would be written by a white American - which is only a testament to the author's respect and admiration for the people he met in Vietnam, and who moved him to write these stories. They are beautifully written, full of honesty and compassion, without pretension. Different voices of these stories come together in this remarkable collection - a worthy winner of the Pulitzer, which I am very happy to have discovered and will gladly return in the future.

  • Fabian
    2019-01-06 09:21

    Exemplary short story collection! Have not been moved this way since Jhumpa Lahiri's (also Pulitzer-winning) "Interpreter of Maladies." CANNOT POSSIBLY be MISSED by any serious student of the Short Story or modern American literature. A late night top-notch scotch...

  • Emily
    2019-01-08 11:23

    I think white people need to stop telling non-white peoples' stories. It just reeks of uncomfortable colonialism. The short story where Butler writes his character as a cheap, two-bit Vietnamese hooker with the awkward stereotypical English one might expect from a recent war victim is just too pathetic for me to swallow. Some nice sentences here and there, but generally a flop.

  • Scott Axsom
    2019-01-14 06:08

    First let me say, “Damn you Robert Olen Butler. Damn you to hell.” Because now any book I pick up next can only pale by comparison to this exquisitely beautiful story collection. A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain is a Pulitzer-winning compilation of stories primarily about the Vietnamese diaspora, with the majority of the stories written from the perspective of immigrants living in and around New Orleans.I am at a loss to adequately describe the poignance of Butler’s prose in this collection. The only thing I can remotely compare it to, in terms of soul-rocking beauty, would be the polemical chapters from The Grapes of Wrath. Butler does a brilliant job of describing the world through the eyes of a wide array of personalities but where he really shines is in his descriptions of the sensory aspects of this world, serving as analogs for the desires, hopes and regrets of the remarkably believable characters he’s created.In a sense, that’s just good writing but Butler can take a description and charge it with such emotion that the whole thing begins to soar and I found myself often transported by his prose. He writes about both the minutiae of daily life and the extremely wrought issues of life and death with such power and clarity that I regularly felt (occasionally with an almost embarrassing sense of intrusion) I was viewing the souls of his characters. He is, without question, a writer with the courage to lay bare his heart.This is such a varied collection that it’s difficult to go much further other than to say there are a couple of stories in here that are the most beautiful things I’ve ever read - specifically the book’s title story as well as the collection’s penultimate story, "Salem" and its final story, “Missing”. That said, there are a couple of stories that didn’t quite do it for me and one in particular ("The American Couple") for which I can contrive no explanation for why it’s in here. But the bottom line is this: Find yourself a quiet place, then take this book and prepare yourself for a ravishing read. Bravo, Robert Olen Butler. Oh, and damn you to hell.

  • Jesse
    2018-12-24 07:21

    a white guy writing vietnamese stories in choppy language as if it were written by a non-english speaker. nobody thinks in language this choppy, and though ESL speakers might not speak as eloquently in English, it doesn't mean their thoughts are disorganized and choppy. it was also just boring and it felt like a chore to read. i quit part way through.

  • Sheri
    2019-01-23 05:59

    So, I didn't realize this was a book of short stories until I started it. I knew it was a Pulitzer Price winner and that was enough to make me grab it. Short stories are not my favorites (I prefer a long book in which I can wallow) and sort of automatically come with a max of 4 stars. In general it was an okay collection and I learned a bit about Vietnamese culture, but the stories were not sufficiently different or interesting enough to garner 4 stars.The stories are all about Vietnamese immigrants in southern American (Louisiana). They touch on race (obviously...and per Edward Hirsch a requirement for a Pulitzer winner) and also sexism and religion as well as cultural assimilation and differences.I have specific notes below on each story:Open Arms--I wasn't crazy about this one. It was not the best opener as it was simply a commentary on the differences in sexual expectations and pornographic allowances between the Westerners and the Vietnamese.Mr. Green--This was interesting. Yes, parrots live a long time and are frequently willed to people. I never really considered, though, that the imitation could increase the mourning of the survivor. The Trip Back--This was one of my favorites. I enjoyed not only the pragmatism of the narrator, but his recognition of his own assimilation. I like that he acknowledged that he didn't feel anything when his wife was upset, but simply acted in a sympathetic matter anyway. "I found that I myself was no longer comfortable with the old ways. Like the extended family. Like other things too. The Vietnamese indirectness, for instance. The superstition. I was a good American now."Fairy Tale--I find it interesting that this book is so sexist. Not only are girls not as good as boys, but several of the female characters are prostitutes. I did like the acknowledgement that life is different than stories and I found the miscommunication from tones to be interesting. A nonsensical sentence about a sunburnt duck was more meaningful than a political statement. And then, of course she makes up her own fairy tale about the apples.Crickets--I was less interested in this story. The father wants to share his childhood, but can't because of the cultural and physical differences between their lives and generations. It is too overtly poignant to be actually meaningful.Letters from my Father--Again with the fairy tales and the American with the Vietnamese bride. I enjoyed the incorporation of the shadow man in the story, but I wasn't really attached to the narrator.Love--"It is a terrible thing to be married to a beautiful woman." Of all the stories so far, this is the most ridiculously sexist. Not only is she only valued for her beauty (my little butterfly): "I understand her limitations, and a wise man does not try to change the things that can't be changed." but she is solely his possession and after he unsuccessfully uses voodoo to "keep" her, she returns to him simply because he was willing to fight. Yuk.Mid-Autumn--The mother speaks to the fetus and laments that she was not a son, but also we have the motif of dead Vietnamese father and replacement American. It was okay and I enjoyed the cultural lesson of the Rose Silk Thread God.In the Clearing--So again we have fathers separated from the rest of the family, but in this instance the Vietnamese dad sort of accidentally left. I did enjoy the description of boyhood: "As a boy you wish to be frightened. You like the night; you like the quickness inside you and as you and your friends speak of mysterious things, ghosts and spirits..."A Ghost Story--I was surprised reading this one to discover that the ancestor shrines were also occasionally devoted to women. Otherwise, the story itself was a bit humdrum...a grim reaper of sorts and yet another solider during the Vietnam War.Snow--Again we have the mixed race couple and the female servant perspective. I wasn't not particularly interested in or overwhelmed with this one...but it did make me think of eating Chinese take out.Relic--I found the idea of a Vietnamese refugee buying one of John Lennon's shoes to be slightly hysterical. It reminded me of middle schoolers trying to figure out what to do to fit in and be cool. I liked the self awareness of the narrator in this one ("spineless poor" and then he explains; he criticizes the vegetable back yards of the Vietnamese in Versailles but also note that he is glad he is alone because it helps him to assimilate).Preparation--Again, this had a great voice. The ugly friend who has always been jealous of her beautiful (but now dead) best friend is guilt ridden but also still angry and jealous (even though she is the one still living) until she discovers that the friend's breast ha been removed and plans to move on to "take back" the husband.The American Couple--This is the longest story in the book and I was less than enamored. Again there was some interesting dynamics between the husband and wife (power struggles) and also I liked the hot tub racism (the Americans were jealous of the hot Mexican lady and didn't even notice the Vietnamese), but I wasn't sure why it needed to be so long. The soldiers playing war and the girls looking at ponies was interesting commentary on the interchangeability of individuals within their own sex, but overall I was just underwhelmed and slightly bored with the length of this one.A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain--The title story features an old man who used to personally know Ho Chi Minh. I liked the personalization of the political figure, but I don't know much Vietnamese history (or enough to catch any of the subtleties here).Salem--This was one of my favorites. I really liked the idea of the Vietnamese guy trying to decide if he should turn in the photograph of the woman and I liked that he identified personality quirks about the man that he had killed. I also found it interesting that Sa lem means to fall and to blur (really what else is death) and that there was just so much worked into this short story.Missing--This was a great perspective switch. All of the stories have dealt with Vietnamese protagonists, most of whom have emigrated to the US. In this story the protagonist remained in Vietnam and his statement: "I am not missing. I am here. I know the smell of the wood fires and the incense my wife burns for the dead father and mother who gave her to me..." is a great definition of going native. It was a powerful way to end the collection and point out the positives of Vietnamese culture. He also had a great quote expressing a sentiment that my husband said to me a few years ago: "touched those places on your body that were smooth and soft and that are coarser now, and I love them still, I love them more for their very coarsenes."

  • Christie
    2018-12-27 11:01

    I feel bad giving this book only one star since it won the Pulitzer, but I did not like this book at all. It's a collection of short stories about Vietnamese immigrants in America. The dust jacket promised "lyrical" but delivered "short and choppy" instead. The stories could be revealing about the Vietnamese immigrant's experience in America, but the writing style is off-putting and frankly, doesn't make much sense to me. Even if the stories are from a Vietnamese person's point of view, and even if they don't speak English well, they wouldn't THINK in choppy sentences, would they?

  • Tara
    2019-01-18 08:22

    There's a reason this won the Pulitzer. While a few of the stories read more like retellings of myths, they are still so unique and melodic that I give this a 5. One of my favorite story collections.

  • Tyler Jones
    2019-01-08 04:54

    Back in my book selling days, Robert Olen Butler's Tabloid Dreams was, shortly after it came out, THE book all the cool kids working in bookstores were recommending to anyone who cared for a recommendation from a kid in a bookstore. I got caught up in the Tabloid Dreams hysteria that gripped my circle of co-workers for three weeks back in 1996, forcing countless unsuspecting Calgarians to buy the collection of short stories. What's that Ma'am? You like Maeve Binchy? Why then you will adore Tabloid Dreams! Looking for a book to help you pass the Canadian securities course? Tabloid Dreams! Then, couple of years later, I clandestinely read his earlier short story collection, Good Scent From a Strange Mountain. Only now, after fourteen years, do I dare admit it - Good scent is a better book. This book is all killer, no filler. After each story you read, you will say to yourself "that is one of the best stories I've ever read" - and the next story will be better.Butler served two years in Vietnam, both as a counter-intelligence special agent and as an interpreter. This background gave him a unique perspective into the hearts and minds (as they say) of the Vietnamese, which coupled with his extraordinary imagination helped to produce this amazing book. Almost all the stories are told from a Vietnamese person's point-of-view and most are told post war. Many explore the refugee experience in America. But here the similarities end, as Butler explores distinctly different personalities, values and dreams in each story. Less gimmicky and more true than Tabloid Dreams - and I still think Tabloid Dreams is an awesome book.

  • Sterlingcindysu
    2018-12-26 09:23

    Even though this wasn't a pool read (book to read by the pool that doesn't matter if it gets wet and easy to pick up and get back in the groove after days away), it could have been, up til the last story. The first 13 stories were like potato chips and I couldn't gobble them down fast enough. I checked this out after my husband read/bought it. I tend to dismiss Vietnam War books--too depressing, violent, mucho macho military men figures, and I'm getting a little burned out from WWII novels lately. But this isn't a Vietnam War book (except for that draggy 14th story), it's more about the Vietnamese who immigrate here and settle in Louisiana. The back cover says it blends Vietnamese folklore with American realities and that's exactly right. Loved the story of the cuckolded husband who went to the voodoo doctor and actually got all the supplies together to throw some nasty gris-gris at "the other man"! While the stories weren't humorous there was a sense of hope with all of them. For example, one Vietnamese girl ponders about the beginning of fairy tales, "Once upon a time". Since a cowboy during the war told her he used to get "up on" a bull, she pictures how during the telling of a fairy tale, you get "up on" the back of time and you don't know where or when you'll get off. Very poetic. Pulitzer Prize winner 1993.

  • Johnplavelle
    2019-01-02 11:56

    In THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim O'Brien he has a short story about the young enemy soldier that he killed by throwing a hand grenade at him. In Olen Butler's A GOOD SCENT FROM A STRANGE MOUNTAIN, there is "Salem" the short story of a Vietnamese soldier that keeps a pack of Salem cigarettes that he recovered from a dead American soldier that he had killed. He is troubled because the government wants him to return all of the items that could be used to identify the dead Americans. Ho Chi Minh smoked Salems and he wants to keep them as a shrine. The stories should be read together. The Man I Killed is the focus of these two stories, there are people out there in these wars and when these two men focus on that. War becomes a different thing for both of them.

  • Tuckova
    2019-01-19 10:21

    I forgot that I finished this finally. I didn't throw it, but I definitely didn't like it very much. I think that writers CAN write from other points of view (just like readers can read and understand different points of view than their own) but all but one narrator rang false; what I heard behind the "Vietnamese" voice was always a white guy, probably from the midwest, who maybe went to Vietnam for a while. I can hear him working on it. Oddly, the story that had the strongest and most-likely-to-go-wrong voice (Fairy Tale) was the only one I liked.

  • Mmars
    2018-12-27 03:58

    I’m really torn over whether this book deserved a Pulitzer for several reasons. First, several of these stories are stunning and do what great short stories do. They set you up and spin you through a slice of life at a discombobulating pace then leave you pinned at some unanticipated place. Like playing pin the tail on the donkey. However, I found one or two to be good, but not great. Thus four stars….(the expectations are high for a Pulitzer Prize winner.)The stories were interesting and fueled by quiet introspection, humorous cultural assimilation, and sad alienation. I fully expect the content to pop into my mind in the future for various reasons. For example, “The American Couple” will come to mind whenever I’m in a temporary situation (like a vacation or a retreat) and fast friendships are made. The kind you know nothing will come of, but under the circumstances anything is possible. Another struggle….A white man writing in the Vietnamese (both male and female) voice. Not sure how this will play out over time. I think he did it admirably, but the fact is, it nags at me. Seemed authentic….got the Pulitzer. But was anyone on the Pulitzer committee Vietnamese? Female?I feel this all sounds overly critical, and Butler had no control over his book being a Pulitzer and doesn’t deserve uber-criticism because of it. So, if I randomly picked this up, or read it not knowing it was a Pulitzer, I’d quite likely have swooned over it.

  • Susan Bleyle
    2019-01-17 06:12

    This is an absolutely amazing collection of stories about the Vietnamese experience in the 20-year-aftermath (at the time this collection was published) of the Vietnam war. While most of the stories center around families who have resettled and rebuilt their lives in the United States after the war, there are also incredibly powerful stories from other perspectives--including the final, haunting story of an ex-American soldier, supposedly "MIA" for nearly twenty years, who has actually been building a new life for himself with a wife and child in a small, coffee and tobacco growing village in Vietnam. After having read this book, I will never think about the Vietnam war--or any war for that matter--or the refugee experience--in the same way. I highly recommend this short story collection.

  • Kenton Yee
    2019-01-17 07:55

    Robert Olen Butler inhabits his POV characters so masterfully that there are no weak stories in this collection. Indeed, each of these stories is another example of how to structure and present a short story. The progression of point-of-view characters, from hookers and strippers to Americanized middle-class Vietnamese immigrants in Louisiana to the white American deserter assimilated in a rural Vietnamese village, works well together and immerses us in a reading experience that exceeds the sum of the individual stories. I am still pondering "The American Couple" (the longest and most ambitious of the stories) and how it's a metaphor for the story of Vietnamese-American relations--and potentially a warning to America about getting sucked into Middle East and other conflicts in the future. With Robert Olen Butler's ability to inhabit characters and channel their voices, I wish that he would show us more Vietnamese-Americans than just the hooker-stripper husband-seeker former-military-officer-turn-businessman fisherman restauranteur and still-fervently-Vietnamese demographic. (About 3/4 way through the book, the Vietnamese accent started to feel stereotypical and suffocating.) What about the elite immigrants? The rebellious artists? The fraction who did not become cliches?

  • Laura
    2018-12-28 05:07

    So, I actually really liked a lot of these stories, but this book bothered me because all the stories are narrated by Vietnamese or Vietnamese Americans and the author is white. I mean, no one should be confined to only write from the perspective of their race/gender, but I can't really get over this one. I've read other books that do the same thing and haven't though twice about it (although maybe I should have thought twice), but this collection of stories is particularly troubling to me.I've come to the conclusion that it bothers me in this case because Butler went to the trouble to construct 15 stories from the perspective of young, old, women, men, immigrants, people born in the states, successful business men, waitresses, married, single, etc. It's like he was trying not just to adopt a perspective culturally different from his own--but was attempting to voice an ENTIRE culture. But maybe that was the point. Maybe I was supposed to be bothered?

  • Stephen Gallup
    2019-01-09 05:02

    I bought and read this book when it first came out, back in '92, inspired to find it after hearing a radio commentary. At the time, I had just returned from a life-changing stay in Taiwan and was fascinated by all things Asian. Thought of it again this week while reading The Unwanted.This is a collection of stories told from the points of view of various Vietnamese expatriates at various stages in the process of becoming assimilated into American culture. The author has a remarkable ability to speak with authority from many different personalities. I so admire that talent, and just do not get the reaction of another reviewer who claims to be bothered by it. The empathy required to pull this off when the author is not even Vietnamese is praiseworthy, not troubling.

  • Joshua Rigsby
    2019-01-23 07:13

    This is a unique short story anthology, as all the characters are connected, however tangentially, to the Vietnamese expatriate community near New Orleans. Most of these stories are good, and some of them are very good. There were only a couple bad apples, and even those were bearable. Dramatic, surprising, funny, they run the gamut.I had the sense throughout that Butler knew these characters and their culture very well. The amount of detail and specificity seemed to come from someone who had known and experienced these things first hand, which I appreciated very much. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the region, the culture, the history, or the genre. Well done. See my own short stories at

  • Susan (aka Just My Op)
    2019-01-03 10:15

    This collection of short stories, of the Vietnamese affected by the war, is probably the best collection of short stories I have ever read. Most of the stories are about immigrants from Vietnam who have ended up in Louisiana. Some are set in Vietnam. All are beautiful.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.

  • Tung
    2019-01-19 08:16

    Like all on this site, I'm a voracious reader. In my lifetime I've read thousands of books, including many of the great classics of literature. This book is my absolute favorite book of all time. The first time I read this book, I did it in a sitting. And then I proceeded to read it twice more in a 48 hour span. The prose is first-rate, with imageries that jump off the page. Butler weaves themes and phrases from one part of a story throughout the rest of the story to perfection. This book makes me want to be a writer; it makes me wish I had written that perfect sentence I had just read. The quality of stories ranges from superb to breathtaking. I can't say enough good things about this book. It is my all-time favorite.

  • Ron
    2019-01-05 06:13

    Some of the most beautiful stories I've ever read. You MUST read this one!

  • Claudia Putnam
    2019-01-11 07:22

    Masterful and enriching. I think all writers should work to write or at least think from the POV of the other in their fiction or memoir. Not necessarily anything as reachy as Marra's A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, which I didn't think quite came off, or say, refugees if you know none, but simply others you know or can't quite grasp. Butler is a Vietnam veteran, and here he writes from the POV of Vietnamese refugees, most of whom were from the Republic of Vietnam, some having fought for that country, but a few of whom were VC or at least VC sympathizers. Many of his characters are female. People, in other words, he's had an opportunity to observe, but who are not within his direct experience. The stories are beautiful and moving without being sentimental. Exactly why I read.

  • Tim Frederick
    2019-01-07 05:12

    This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993. It is a collection on short stories similar to Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies which is currently on my Top 5 Pulitzer Prize bookshelf. The stories in this book are not as engaging and the characters not as interesting. I give A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain 3 stars.

  • Lynda
    2018-12-30 10:00

    Beautiful short stories of Vietnamese immigrants.

  • Venky
    2019-01-23 05:10

    Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 'A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain', is a remarkable collection of short stories by Robert Olen Butler. The stories are in the voices of people from Vietnam who in the aftermath of the carnage wreaked by the infamous Vietnam War, find solace in the vast expanse of America. The fictitious narrative even though emanating from New Orleans and Louisiana still echoes the perspectives of distant Saigon, and Hanoi. Deep, introspective and vibrant each of these stories discards apparent syllogisms for refreshing eye openers. A common thread stitching every story together and binding diverse characters in an unusually unified bond, is a total recognition of the futility of war. From the former soldier hidden in the depths of darkness in the jungles of Vietnam, waiting to kill his adversary before he himself can be murdered, to the helpless wives of every combatant who with a sense of reticence accept the difficult fate of their husbands, every protagonist is resigned to berating yet accepting the senseless purpose of armed conflict. Even as they leave the war and consequently their country behind the scars of battle are never too far away. Even a comfortable existence in the 'land of dreams' does not bestow upon these immigrants a salve to ease their physical and psychological wounds. As they go about their day to day activities in monotonous fashion, ghosts of a traumatic past continue to haunt them. While there have been innumerable books dealing with the Vietnamese perspective of the catastrophe that besieged this nation severing the North from the South, no one does justice to the sentiments of this South East Asian nation than Robert Olen Butler. There is an immediate connect to character, content and context. The uniqueness of every story and its attendant perspective sets Butler apart from many of his peers and contemporaries. The struggles faced by a closely knit community viewed as aliens by the very people who were also their supposed liberators lends a completely rare credence to this fantastic collection. Just to demonstrate his versatility, Butler also throws in this interesting mix of stories, an element of horror. This particular story is a wee bit disappointing although assisting in taking the weight of profundity off a reader's shoulder. A couple of stories are long drawn (such as "The American Couple" and "A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain"), but gripping nonetheless. "A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain" - A Whiff of sheer Artistry!

  • Ananya Ghosh
    2019-01-16 08:55

    I have found that I love short stories, and so I picked this book up as it seemed very promising. The Pulitzer plus the insight into Vietnamese culture that I expected it to provide, and the book did deliver. The book contains short stories, mainly about characters who have migrated to the US after the Vietnamese war and talks about their problems of assimilation, their own culture and its contrast with the American culture and so much more. The best thing I found about this book was that the author detached himself from the characters beautifully and moulded them into imperfectly beautiful people. Also, in many reviews of this book on goodreads, I found people calling the book, or certain stories as sexist. And being a feminist myself, I in no way promote the way women have been treated in some of the stories, especially in the one called 'Love', but being an Indian, I can totally relate to the stereotypical characterisation of both the beautiful wife and the overly jealous husband. The stories in the book are in no way grand with flowered language, but are still very beautiful and heart-warming sometimes, in their approach as they touch you somewhere deep. While reading, it nearly feels like the reader is looking at the character's bare soul and it is a soothing feeling because sometimes, I find solace in the adventures and misadventures of the characters I'm reading about.The stories that I liked from this book would have to be Mr Green, Snow, Fairy Tale, Preparation, Salem and Missing. And the story that I could not really understand was, unfortunately, the title story, A Good Scent From A Strange Mountain. Other stories like Relic and The American Couple and Mid- Autumn were good too. But Missing has to be the story that impacted very hard for the sheer 'reversal of position' kind of a situation as the other stories are mainly based on Vietnamese living in the US but this one was about an American living in Vietnam after the war is over, having a Vietnamese wife and family and liking it here.All in all, it was an emotionally charged book that made me feel in every chapter, with every character, be it happiness, contentment, sadness, anger, jealousy or frustration, I felt every emotion with the characters, except for with the man obsessed with fighting off the men interested in his wife, just for the way he treated his wife and thought of himself. Overall, this was a great read, and even though I'm going through a snail-pace with reading or probably even slower, I'm glad I finished this and beckon everyone to read it.

  • Khue
    2019-01-14 05:09

    This collection has a couple good stories. But as a Vietnamese American, I feel that Robert Olen Butler has taken away something from the Vietnamese people. He has used our culture, our history, our country, and its people and appropriated it for his own benefit. This collection of stories, told from a Vietnamese perspective, won the Pulitzer Prize and has won Butler acclaim. But there are great Vietnamese writers out there, writing about life during the war and after, that are hardly published, read, or marketed here in the United States. There are Vietnamese writers writing about the exact same things that Butler is writing about, with more soul, and more insight into the Vietnamese spirit, and they are pushed aside so that a white man can tell our stories for us. These Vietnamese writers will never reach acclaim or get recognition, because when they write stories about themselves, it's classified as a 'niche' or 'international' market and it doesn't sell. Butler has presented himself as an expert on the Vietnamese here, but he's a fraud. His stories ring inauthentic. You're better off reading an actual account from an actual Vietnamese person. Try The Vietnamese Gulag by Doan Van Toai, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places by Le Ly Hayslip, the Sacred Willow by Duong Van Mai Elliott, and others. I am disgusted and furious by the appropriation going on here, in the name of "creative writing."

  • Jo Deurbrouck
    2019-01-11 09:12

    This is more a collection of voices than of stories. Compelling, thoughtful, well-meaning, sometimes wise voices, trying to make sense out of life, humanity, nationalism, being Vietnamese, being old, living with war, and trying to love through all the complexities of being human. I didn't read the book. By happy accident I listened to it. I'd sure recommend the experience. Hearing this collection of voices made the journeys they described and their earnest attempts to understand themselves and their world even more intimate.One of Butler's recurring devices that I just love is how in the 'now' of the stories, mostly, nothing happens. But the characters are carrying the sums of their lives, and in those lives people have struggled, died, killed. You get all of a very quiet 'now.'One criticism of the audio version. Between stories there is a very short pause, then Butler (your narrator) reads the title and dives in. The reader would be well served by 1. music of some kind of break indicator; and 2. more time after hearing a new story title and before the story begins. These are stories you want to savor and think about. You don't want to just dive into the next one. And since the story structures are so low key, you literally aren't sure, many times, that a story has ended until Butler announces the next title, which you aren't ready to think about because you're still in the previous story.

  • Mary
    2019-01-02 09:17

    This was my book club's selection for the month, and - to be honest - I wasn't exactly thrilled at the prospect of reading it. I don't have much of an interest in short story collections or the Vietnam War, so this anthology didn't hold much appeal.However.The reason I joined the club is to experience new and varied reads, and this book didn't disappoint in those categories. I found that I really enjoyed the short story format - it was easy to read a story or two during a sitting and not worry about forgetting what had happened in the plot when I next had the chance to read a few more pages.And I found Butler's interpretation of various post-War Vietnamese really engaging. Even though the stories don't delve into the Vietnam War itself (at least, very little of the actual war is mentioned or described; though, I was glad to have a reason to look up an annotated history of the event - an event I hadn't considered since high school), the book carries with it the shadow of war, and it's difficult to separate the more "contemporary" stories of transplanted Vietnamese with the brutal, lasting effects of war.My favorite stories included Crickets, Love, A Ghost Story, Snow, and The American Couple.