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“Novel Without a Name” by Duong Thu Huong Essay (Book Review)


The events that transpired during the Vietnamese war have been documented and expressed through various novels. However, most of these novels are told from the perspective of the American and other Western soldiers. “Novel Without a Name” is an example of a novel that tells the story of the Vietnam War through the point of view of a Vietnamese soldier. This novel is authored by Duong Thu Huong a former soldier in the Vietnamese army. “Novel Without a Name” tells the story of Quan, a young soldier in the Vietnamese army. Quan narrates the events that transpire in the course of ‘the war’ especially his efforts to try to locate his childhood friend who is believed to have gone mad.

The novel never reveals which war is being referred to but it is quite clear that it is ‘The American War’ (how the Vietnamese refer to the Vietnam War). The author of this novel seeks to highlight the futility of the American War and the hypocrisy of the Vietnamese government. After her brief stint as a Vietnamese soldier, Huong became a fierce critic of the communist government in Vietnam. At one point, Huong was taken to a communist government re-education camp. The views of the novel’s main character echo Huong’s criticism of the communist government. This paper explores how the views and beliefs of the book’s main protagonist relate to the government’s ideology.

The main protagonist in the book is Quan, a 28-year-old soldier probably from the Viet Cong faction. Quan has been fighting in the war for a decade and has already begun to show signs of disillusionment. By the time he is narrating this story, his hair is turning gray, and his body is visibly weak as a result of disease and malnutrition. In his narration, Quan remembers that he was attracted to the war by a government ideology that he found favorable. Quan’s disillusionment increases when he is forced to confront his childhood friend’s frail state of mind. After Bien goes mad, he is confined in squalid conditions. Among the disturbing duties Quan has to perform as part of his military service is making coffins in the jungle for dead soldiers and finding less dangerous billets. When Quan returns to his home village, he finds his father in a depressed state of mind because he is unable to get over the guilt of forcing his sons to enlist in the army.

One of the main differences between Quan’s beliefs and the government’s ideology is sincerity. An ideology refers to ideas that govern an individual or a government’s expectations, actions, and goals. In a “Novel Without a Name”, the government that is being referred to is the Vietnamese Communist government. The ideology of the Vietnamese government at the time was modeled around the communist Marxist ideology.

Quan confesses that he enlisted in the army to fight for the ideologies of the Vietnamese government and Marxism in particular. Therefore, when Quan joined the army he was excited to fight for the survival of socialism and the political philosophies of the Vietnamese government. However, Quan confesses that the decision to join the army was partly motivated by the need to seek personal glory and become a hero. Nevertheless, as time progresses Quan realizes that he does not even remember why he enlisted in the army. Quan’s disillusionment is replicated in his fellow soldiers. The government passes its wishes to its soldiers and urges them to fight but it does not pass down its core ideology to the soldiers. Although Quan is taking part in the war, he is not necessarily aware of the government’s motivation towards the war.

All Quan is aware of is his own motivation in taking part in the war. Quan initially believed that taking part in the war would make him a hero and help preserve Marxism. However, with time all he can think of are the brutal aspects of the war and the losses he has incurred in the process of fighting. Similarly, the government got into the war to protect its Marxist ideology and garner national pride. However, the government’s beliefs are not changed by the events of the war. When Quan is on a train from his village, he overhears two high-ranking communist officials confessing to misleading and misusing the villagers (Huong 155).

This implies that the government was not sincere in its initial claims about serving the interests of the citizens. Instead, the government was just using the Marxist ideology to serve its own interests. Quan is sincere when he resolves to fight for Marxism and is sincere when he is disillusioned by the war. On the other hand, the government is insincere about fighting for socialism and is insincere in its recognition of the war’s futility.

There is a big difference between the concept of ideology that is perpetrated by the government and the reality of this ideology as experienced by Quan. Quan finds himself suffering the effects of the differences between ideological theory and ideological reality. In one instance, Quan finds an old issue of a Communist publication that was celebrating the victory of the Vietnamese army at Tet. However, Quan had a different recollection of the events at Tet; “we had been there… I had buried with my own hands countless numbers of my companions, had dragged away from the line of fire little Hoang’s corpse… it was then that I realized that lies are common currency among men, and that the most virtuous are those who have no scruples about resorting to them” (Huong 83).

This experience highlights the difference between an ideology’s theory and its reality. While the government considered this event a victory, Quan considered it a big loss to him and his team. Therefore, even after the government manipulated people into remaining faithful to an ideology Quan realized that the ideology was just the government’s way of controlling people’s ideals and beliefs.

In another instance, Quan is having a conversation with Commander Dao Tien who tells him about the importance of ideology to a human being. Tien tells Quan that “ideology is fundamental, you can’t forget ideology” (Huong 77). Tien was making this argument to defend his decision to force his brother to enlist in the army. However, even after defending the war ideology, Tien’s brother was later killed in the army by his fellow comrades. The reality of the ideology that Tien is defending ends up being different from its theory. Quan reckons that Tien prevented his brother from being a doctor only to lose him in the war.

In a “Novel Without a Name”, Huong sets out to contrast the government’s ideologies and the reality on the ground. The main protagonist in the novel regrettably traces the origin of his decision to enlist in the army and the different reality he was encountering in the army. Quan notes that while his decision was based on sincerity, the government’s ideology was just meant to control his beliefs. He notes that the government’s ideology did not favor anyone not even those who truly believed in it such as Commander Dao Tien. Huong, a fierce critic of the communist Vietnamese government maintains his sharp criticism of the Marxist ideology throughout the book.

Works Cited

Huong, Duong. Novel Without a Name, New York, NY: Penguin Group, 1996. Print.

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