Gothic Resistances: Flesh, Bones, Ghosts and Time in Vietnamese Postwar Fiction

John Armstrong


In contrast to the thousands of critical studies of American writing on the Vietnam War, there has been a relative dearth of English-language appraisals of Vietnamese literature of the American War (as it is known in Vietnam). This disparity in understanding partly informs anthropologist Heonik Kwon’s distinction between “the idiom of ghost” often used in American memories of the war and the widespread public belief in war ghosts in Vietnam, whose war dead numbered approximately fifty times that of the American military forces, and whose citizens continued to suffer long after the war due to the most extensive bombing and chemical weapons campaigns in the history of humankind.

This paper explores novels (by Bao Ninh and Duong Thu Huong) and short stories by (Le Minh Khue, Ho Anh Thai, Ngo Tu Lap and Phan Hy Dong) from the rich wave of Vietnamese postwar fiction which began to be published and translated in the early 1990s. Through close readings of these works, this study will analyse how local customs of the dead combine with Gothic forms and features – flesh, bones, ghosts and time – to create fictional and memorial resistances to myths and ideologies which have sought to cast the war in more traditional tropes of nationalism and heroism.

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