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A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by…

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain (original 1992; edition 2016)

by Robert Olen Butler (Author)

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1,2592311,794 (3.8)141
Butler's Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of stories about the aftermath of the Vietnam War and its impact on the Vietnamese is reissued. Includes two subsequently published stories that complete the collection's narrative journey, returning to the jungles of Vietnam.
Title:A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
Authors:Robert Olen Butler (Author)
Info:No Exit Press (2016), Edition: UK ed.
Collections:Your library

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A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain: Stories by Robert Olen Butler (1992)


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Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
So well-written with every character well-developed. I only wonder how this work is perceived by people who are actually Vietnamese or of Vietnamese decent. I didn't seem disrespectful of their culture, I'm just wondering how accurate it's perceived. ( )
  Sean191 | Aug 23, 2018 |
All of these stories involve Vietnam and Vietnamese people. Nearly all the stories involve Louisiana, and a good number involve Catholicism, as opposed to Buddhism, Taoism, or other more typical Asian religions. I do not know the significance of the particular religious slant. One story had all these elements in it, but could have easily had none of them and still made exactly the same points. It was as if it was changed just to fit the ambiance of the rest of the book. Regardless, the author did serve during the Viet Nam War as a translator, and did teach in Louisiana for many years. After the first story in the collection, I quickly developed a feeling that the author had felt a keen interest in the Vietnamese transplants to America, and felt a need to fill a void that existed in relating their lives outside the war to the rest of Americans. More and more as I read, I could envision in my mind a white male American doing one-person one-act plays or monologues, with the author playing the role of a series of Vietnamese characters. After a while this image became less invasive, but I never fully lost the feeling of the author trying to do his Vietnamese friends a favor of telling their story for them. Frankly, I wish there had been a bit more variety in the stories at times, but there is some humor, some suspense, some surprises, but a nearly constant underflow of sadness. This book may have served its purpose for its time, but I strongly suspect a current book written by an actual Vietnamese writer would have very distinct differences. ( )
  larryerick | Apr 26, 2018 |
A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain is one of the most extraordinary collections of short stories that I have ever read.

Each of the 15 short stories is written in the first person, from the standpoint of a different individual. All of the fictional narrators are immigrants to the US from Vietnam who are living in New Orleans. The characters are distinctive and memorable, include males and females, and range from young to very old. The stories are powerful and evocative, very human stories of love, loss, betrayal, and reconciliation.

Each of them deserves to be savored. In fact, I cannot read more than one in a setting, and they stay with me long afterwards.

Summarizing their themes does not do them justice. "Fairy Tail" is told from the standpoint of a "Miss Nol", an exotic dancer in a New Orleans nightclub who used to work as a bar girl in Saigon -- and who, remarkably, finds what she needed from an unlikely source. "Open Arms" is related by a Vietnamese man who worked as an interpreter during the war. He recounts an episode in which a fighter from the other side is welcomed by the US forces -- with tragic, unforeseeable consequences. "In the Clearing" is told from the standpoint of an expatriate man who is writing a letter back home to Vietnam, to the son he has never met (the man had to leave his homeland at the end of the war, leaving his pregnant wife behind). In "Mid-Autumn", a young woman who is married to an American man, talks to her unborn child about her first betrothed from back home -- who died in the war. In "Preparation", a woman in a mortuary prepares the hair and makeup of her deceased best friend -- with an epiphany that explains their relationship. In the eponymous tale, a 100 year old man imagines that he is being visited by Ho Chi Minh, whom he knew in his younger years. "The American Couple" is a longer piece than the others (at 79 pages), and is a strange and humorous tale about told by a young woman who has come to embrace American pop culture... and whose her husband and his new American friend play seriously at reliving their military experiences.

The author of these stories, Robert Olen Butler, spent years in Vietnam as an army linguist where he adapted to the local culture. That experience, and his ongoing acquaintance with the expatriate Vietnamese communities around New Orleans helped give him the ability to adopt the personas of the fictional narrators of the stories. Given that he is European- American, I expected that some reviewers at Amazon would object to Butler's writing on the grounds of "cultural appropriation". However, of the several reviews that I read, I didn't see any who did so. Perhaps this is because the voicings seem (to a reader's ears) so real and because the stories are so powerful and so sensitively rendered.

I can see why this author won a Pulitzer for these stories. I recommend them highly. ( )
2 vote danielx | Aug 15, 2017 |
A wonderfully entertaining and sometimes hilarious look at American, especially Louisiana, life from a Vietnamese perspective
  dangnad | Jul 12, 2017 |
Love this author, love everything he writes. The short stories in this piece deliver the reader to a different time and place. ( )
  TBoerner | Mar 22, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
"A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain" goes a long way toward making the Vietnamese real, and its method is bold: each of the 15 stories is told in the first person from the viewpoint of a Vietnamese transplanted from the Mekong Delta to the Louisiana bayou. The Americans have become foils; it's the Vietnamese who are now at the center, haunted by the past, ambivalent about their hosts, suffering sexual torments, seeking a truce in their various wars....

To become complete, these dislocated men and women return in memory and imagination to Vietnam, where folk tales narrated within the stories often illuminate their present condition....

The intricacy of these stories, and of most of the collection, lies in their motifs, not in psychological insight. Mr. Butler uses the narrative surprises and symbolic imagery of folklore, and as in folklore his meanings can be both simple and opaque.
added by zhejw | editNew York Times, George Packer (Jun 7, 1992)
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From the first story, Open Arms: I have no hatred in me.
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Butler's Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of stories about the aftermath of the Vietnam War and its impact on the Vietnamese is reissued. Includes two subsequently published stories that complete the collection's narrative journey, returning to the jungles of Vietnam.

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A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain is Butler's Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of lyrical and poignant stories about the aftermath of the Vietnam War and its enduring impact on the Vietnamese. Written in a soaring prose, Butler's haunting and powerful stories blend Vietnamese folklore and contemporary American realities, creating a vibrant panorama that is epic in its scope. This new edition includes two previousdly uncollected stories- "Missing" and "Salem"-that brilliantly complete the collection's narrative journey, returning to the jungles of Vietnam to explore the experiences of a former Vietcong soldier and an American MIA.
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