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“The Sorrow of War” by Bao Ninh Review


The book The Sorrow of War is a narration of one of the Vietnamese soldiers who narrowly escaped a massacre that left almost all his colleagues dead. As he went back to the Jungle of Screaming Souls, Kien, the narrator, remembers how his 27th Battalion was obliterated by the American forces. The primary goal of going back to the jungle was to collect the remains of his colleagues who died in that forest so that they could be given a decent burial, years after the war.

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The book focuses on roles played by different women before, during, and after the war. In this essay, the discussion will be on the role of Can’s mother, a woman from Binh Luc district, Ha Nam province. The paper will discuss how she motivated her sons during the war. She will also help in demonstrating societal injustices that were directed against the poor and powerless in this society.


In this book, the discussion between Can and Kien helps in demonstrating that most of the soldiers in the Vietnamese force were conscripted into service against their wishes. Can’s mother, an elderly and sickly woman, had two sons. Both of them were sent to serve in the war, even though their mother needed help because of her age and health condition. One of her main roles that are demonstrated in this book was to motivate the Vietnamese soldiers, especially her sons, despite the hardships they were going through. During the war, she kept reaching out to her sons through letters, letting them know that she was okay and would be glad if they came back home, alive.

When one of her sons died, she sent a letter to Can, believing that he was the only living son, informing her about the tragedy. She explained to him that his letter was a major consolation to her and the village at a time when they were grieving the death of his brother. Ninh notes, “The whole hamlet shares my joy at having received your letter and I write back immediately with the hope that the kind military post officers will take pity on me and deliver it as quickly as possible to you.

I might already have died, but thanks to your letter I now continue to live and hope, my dear son,” (55). In this letter, she explains to the son that she has the strength to live on because of the hope that one day she will see her again. She informs the son that she is alive because he too is alive. It is a motivation for the son to keep fighting and to ensure that he is safe.

Can’s mother also demonstrates the societal injustices mated against the poor and powerless in this society. By principle, the local chief was expected to ensure that at least one of the two sons would remain to take care of the elderly sick woman. However, the local chief did not bother to take into consideration the needs of this woman. In this letter, she expresses her sorrows, hardship, and the belief that Heavens will be merciful to her. Ninh states, “Oh, my son, since receiving word of your brother’s death from his unit, then having his commemoration ceremony in the village, and getting the Patriotic Certificate, my dear son I have worked night and day in the rice field, ploughing land and transplanting, and I pray always to Heaven, and the ancestors, your late father and brother to bless you” (56).

In this statement, she starts by explaining to Can how sorrowful she was at the death of his bother. She then explains to him how she is forced to work day and night in the field, without any meaningful assistance. This letter demonstrates the unfairness and the injustice of this society. Even after the government took the only people who could provide for her, no steps were taken to ensure that she would not be in need. The tragedy of her story is that her only remaining son, Can, died before reading the letter. She never knew that by the time her letter would be arriving, her son would have died days earlier.

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The Sorrow of War is a narration of sorrowful events that happened during the Vietnam War. Told from the perspective of one of the few Vietnamese soldiers who survived the war, one can understand the pain and suffering that these soldiers, their family, and friends went through during the war. Can’s mother helps in understanding the sorrow. She plays a critical role in this book by helping the readers to understand the trauma that mothers went through when their sons were forced into a war that they did not even understand its meaning. Old and sick, all she wanted was to be close to her two sons in her sunset days. Unfortunately, she lost both of them, and had to face old age as a woman who never raised a child.

Work Cited

Ninh, Bao. The Sorrow of War. Penguin Group, 1995.

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