Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen; The Penguin History of Modern Vietnam by Christopher Goscha - review by Jonathan Mirsky

Jonathan Mirsky

A Right Way to Remember?

Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War


Harvard University Press 374pp £20.95 order from our bookshop

The Penguin History of Modern Vietnam


Allen Lane 633pp £30 order from our bookshop

In Nothing Ever Dies, his unusually thoughtful consideration of war, self-deception and forgiveness, Viet Thanh Nguyen penetrates deeply into memories of the Vietnamese war. Nguyen, who teaches English and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California, was brought to the US as a small boy after the war by his parents, Vietnamese Catholics who feared persecution by the victorious communist movement. His fundamental point is that winners and losers of wars remember them differently; neither side cares to know about, much less to imagine, its adversary’s losses and continuing anguish. In short, there is an unwillingness to extend forgiveness to one’s enemy and a tendency to deny that one’s own side also behaved ruthlessly.

In the case of the Vietnamese war (sometimes, as Nguyen observes, mistakenly called the ‘Vietnam War’, even though it also included Laos and Cambodia), the Americans were responsible for the suffering and deaths of vastly more innocent victims than the communist victors. There were also virtually invisible sufferers on each

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