Bảo Ninh

Last updated
Bảo Ninh
BornHoàng Ấu Phương
(1952-10-18) October 18, 1952 (age 67)
Nghệ An, Vietnam
OccupationNovelist, essayist, short story writer
GenreMemoirs, war stories, short stories
Years active1990–present
Military career
AllegianceFlag of North Vietnam (1955-1975).svg  North Vietnam
Service/branch Flag of the People's Army of Vietnam.svg Vietnam People's Army
Years of service1969–1975
UnitGlorious 27th Youth Brigade
Battles/wars Vietnam War

Hoàng Ấu Phương, also known by the pen name Bảo Ninh (born 18 October 1952 in Nghệ An), is a Vietnamese novelist, essayist and writer of short stories, best known for his first novel, published in English as The Sorrow of War . [1]


Vietnam war

Ninh recounted that American bombing raids during the Vietnam War, beginning in 1965 when he was 14, destroyed ordinary people's homes and upended their lives. Ninh stated that his own school in Hanoi was relocated as a result of the bombing, which inspired him to anger rather than fear. [2] [3] Ninh stated that Americans entering Vietnam were viewed as no different from earlier French colonizers, and that he inherited this view himself from his parents. [2]

During the war Ninh served in the Glorious 27th Youth Brigade, joining when he was 17 years old. [2] He stated that the Vietnamese people who fought against the Americans were not specifically fighting for Marxism, but rather fighting to bring peace for their country. [2] Hunger was a frequent problem for Ninh and his fellow soldiers, who often moved back and forth from their homes to the battlefields. Of the five hundred who went to war with the brigade in 1969, Ninh is one of ten who survived.

Ninh described the fear caused among Vietnamese soldiers by American airpower while in combat during the war:

"While the bombs were falling, only a stone wouldn't be terrified. If the Americans noticed movement in the forest, they would eliminate the forest. Who knows how much money was spent? American taxpayers' money. If a cluster of napalm bombs were dropped, the jungle would turn into a sea of fire. Can you imagine a sea of fire?"

Bảo Ninh [2]

Ninh later called the war "fratricide" fueled by American firepower. "In war, no one wins or loses. There is only destruction." [3]


In 1987, Bảo Ninh published Trại bảy chú lùn (Camp of Seven Dwarves), a collection of short stories. He has also written a second novel, Steppe, but is said to be reluctant to publish it. [4]

In 2018, in an interview with The Caravan magazine, Ninh said that "it's not a good time to publish a novel in Vietnam," when asked about his reluctance to publish further. The article shed light on his troubles dealing with his wartime past and censorship in Vietnam, more than forty years after the fall of Saigon. [5]

A short story by Bảo Ninh, "A Marker on the Side of the Boat" (Khắc dấu mạn thuyền), translated by Linh Dinh, is included in the anthology Night, Again .

Bảo Ninh is also a successful essayist. He is interviewed in Ken Burns's series The Vietnam War .


Related Research Articles

Viet Cong armed mass political organization  (1961–1976) in South Vietnam and Cambodia

The Việt Cộng, also known as the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam or FNL, was a mass political organization in South Vietnam and Cambodia with its own army – the Liberation Army of South Vietnam (LASV) – that fought against the United States and South Vietnamese governments during the Vietnam War, eventually emerging on the winning side. It had both guerrilla and regular army units, as well as a network of cadres who organized peasants in the territory it controlled. Many soldiers were recruited in South Vietnam, but others were attached to the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), the regular North Vietnamese army. During the war, communists and anti-war activists insisted the Việt Cộng was an insurgency indigenous to the South, while the U.S. and South Vietnamese governments portrayed the group as a tool of Hanoi. Although the terminology distinguishes northerners from the southerners, communist forces were under a single command structure set up in 1958.

Paris Peace Accords peace treaty between United States, South Vietnam and North Vietnam

The Paris Peace Accords, officially titled the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Viet Nam, was a peace treaty signed on January 27, 1973, to establish peace in Vietnam and end the Vietnam War. The treaty included the governments of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the Republic of Vietnam, and the United States, as well as the Republic of South Vietnam (PRG) that represented indigenous South Vietnamese revolutionaries. US ground forces up to that point had been sidelined with deteriorating morale and gradually withdrawn to coastal regions, not partaking in offensive operations or much direct combat for the preceding two-year period. The Paris Agreement Treaty would in effect remove all remaining US Forces, including air and naval forces in exchange. Direct U.S. military intervention was ended, and fighting between the three remaining powers temporarily stopped for less than a day. The agreement was not ratified by the United States Senate.

Takeshi Kaikō Japanese writer and activist

Takeshi Kaikō was a prominent post-World War II Japanese novelist, short-story writer, essayist, literary critic, and television documentary writer. He was distinguished by his knowledge, intellect, sense of humor and conversational skills, and although his style has been criticized as wordy and obtuse, he was one of the more popular Japanese writers in the late Shōwa period.

The Indochina Wars were a series of wars fought in Southeast Asia from 1945 to 1991, between communist Indochinese forces against mainly French, South Vietnamese, American, Cambodian, Laotian and Chinese forces. The term "Indochina" originally referred to French Indochina, which included the current states of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. In current usage, it applies largely to a geographic region, rather than to a political area. The wars included:

A war novel or military fiction is a novel about war. It is a novel in which the primary action takes place on a battlefield, or in a civilian setting, where the characters are preoccupied with the preparations for, suffering the effects of, or recovering from war. Many war novels are historical novels.

Larry Curtis Heinemann was an American novelist born and raised in Chicago. His published work – three novels and a memoir – is primarily concerned with the Vietnam War.

<i>The Quiet American</i> (2002 film) 2002 film by Phillip Noyce

The Quiet American is a 2002 film adaptation of Graham Greene's bestselling novel set in Vietnam, The Quiet American. It was directed by Phillip Noyce and starred Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, and Do Thi Hai Yen.

Battle of Ong Thanh

The Battle of Ong Thanh was fought at the stream of that name on the morning of 17 October 1967, in Chơn Thành District, at the time part of Bình Dương Province, South Vietnam, today in Bình Phước Province.

Trần Trọng Kim Vietnamese Prime Minister

Trần Trọng Kim, courtesy name Lệ Thần, was a Vietnamese scholar and politician who served as the Prime Minister of the short-lived Empire of Vietnam, a state established with the support of Imperial Japan in 1945 after Japan had seized direct control of Vietnam from the Vichy French colonial forces during the Second World War. He was an uncle of Bui Diem.

Nam Cao writer

Trần Hữu Tri (1915—1951), commonly known by his pseudonym Nam Cao, was a Vietnamese short story writer and novelist. His works generally received high acclaim from critics for their thoughtful description and veracious reflection of the society in the 1945 era. As a member of the Cultural Association for National Liberation led by the Communist Party, he was frequently sent to various places to do missions. In November 1951, he was ambushed and killed on the way to Lien Khu III, Ninh Bình Province, before his intention of writing a novel about his country and the revolution was ever met.

Hoàng Kế Viêm General of Nguyễn Dynasty

Hoàng Kế Viêm (1820–1909) was Nguyễn dynasty General and Dong'ge Grand Secretariat. He played a significant role in suppressing borderlands banditry and resisting French colonial invasion during the second half of 19th century.  

Hanoi Poison Plot

The Poisoning at Hanoi Citadel was a poisoning plot which occurred in 1908 when a group of Vietnamese indigenous tirailleurs attempted to poison the entire French colonial army's garrison in the Citadel of Hanoi. The aim of the plot was to neutralize the French garrison and make way for Hoang Hoa Tham's rebel army to capture Hanoi. The plot was disclosed, and then was suppressed by the French.

Prince of Bảo Nghĩa Trần Bình Trọng (1259–1285) was a general of the Trần Dynasty well known for his heroic action in the war of Dai Viet against the second Mongol invasion. After the capture of Trần Bình Trọng by the army of the Yuan Dynasty, Kublai Khan's prince Toghan attempted to convince the Đại Việt general to surrender by telling him about the situation of the Trần Dynasty, saying that Trần Bình Trọng would get a minister's post in China. However, the general rejected his proposition, and thus, Toghan had him executed. Today, he is widely known as an example of patriotism in Annam, story about Marquis Bảo Nghĩa is taught in Vietnamese schoolbooks and many places in Vietnam are named in honour of this national hero.

Francis (Frank) Palmos a journalist, author, and translator, who is best known for his work in South East Asia.

1972 in the Vietnam War saw foreign involvement in South Vietnam slowly declining. Two allies, New Zealand and Thailand, which had contributed a small military contingent, left South Vietnam this year. The United States continued to participate in combat, primarily with air power to assist the South Vietnamese army, while negotiators in Paris tried to hammer out a peace agreement and withdrawal strategy for the United States. One American operation that was declassified years after the war was Operation Thunderhead, a secret mission that attempted to rescue POWs.

<i>Coordinates of Death</i> 1985 film by Samvel Gasparov

Coordinates of Death is a 1985 film by Samvel Gasparov (USSR) and Nguyen Xuan Chan (Vietnam). The film, which involved both Soviet and Vietnamese movie makers, is mostly about American brutality during the Vietnam War.

The Sorrow of War is a 1990 novel by the Vietnamese writer Bảo Ninh. The novel was Ninh's graduation project at the Nguyen Du Writing School in Hanoi. It tells the story of a soldier who is collecting dead bodies after a battle and then begins to think about his past. The novel won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

Nguyễn Huy Thiệp is a Vietnamese writer. He has been described as Vietnam's most influential writer. In 1992, before Bảo Ninh (1993) and Dương Thu Hương (1996), he was the first to write a major novel taking the gloss off the "American War" experience.

<i>The Vietnam War</i> (TV series) 2017 documentary television series

The Vietnam War is a 10-part American television documentary series about the Vietnam War written by Geoffrey C. Ward and directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The first episode premiered on PBS on September 17, 2017. The script is by Geoffrey Ward, and the series is narrated by Peter Coyote. This series is one of the few PBS series to carry a TV-MA rating.

Diasporic Vietnamese narratives refer to the stories, memories, and experiences written about the Vietnamese diaspora. Vietnamese diaspora is the dispersion of Vietnamese people living outside of Vietnam. Scholars indicate that the Vietnamese diaspora is unique because of its complex "historical roots of refugee-exile circumstances." At the same time, Priscilla Koh asserts that "overseas Vietnam" should not be grouped as one massive "undifferentiated category" because periods of departure are not only complex, but their political eras should also be thoughtfully considered. Koh further states that during the 20th century, Vietnam has experienced several instances of "mass emigration" due to war, poverty, opportunities to study abroad, and political changes.


  1. Christina Schwenkel The American War in Contemporary Vietnam 2009 p.63,"In contemporary literature, popular novels by Dương Thu Hương (1996), Nguyễn Huy Thiệp (1992), and Bảo Ninh (1993) have contributed to an emerging genre that challenges revolutionary heroism and explores the bleakness and hardships of war rather than its glories."
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Burns, Ken. "The Vietnam War". American Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  3. 1 2 Ward, Geoffrey (2017). The Vietnam War: An Intimate History. Afred A. Knopf. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  4. Goldenberg, Suzanne (2006-11-19). "Why Vietnam's best-known author has stayed silent". The Observer. Archived from the original on 6 February 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-05.
  5. Inani, Rohit (2018-10-01). "The Long Silence of Bao Ninh". The Caravan.