cover of book

The Stars, The Earth, The River: Short Stories by Le Minh Khue
by Le Minh Khue
Northwestern University Press, 1997
Paper: 978-1-880684-47-4
Library of Congress Classification PL4378.9.L3615A2 1997
Dewey Decimal Classification 895.922334

This collection of 14 stories--each a harrowing sketch of the Vietnam War and its aftermath-- offers American readers a glimpse offamiliar territory, but from an unfamiliar perspective. Often writing from a young woman's point of view, Le Minh Khue, a war veteran who served in the Youth Volunteers Brigade, uses simple, understated prose to describe numbing horrors:

"There were three of us. Three girls. We lived in a cavern at the foot of a strategic hill ... Our job was to sit there. Whenever a bomb exploded, we had to run up, figure out how much earth was needed to fill the hold, count the unexploded bombs, and, if necessary, detonate them. They called us the Ground Reconnaissance Team. That title inspired in us a passion to do heroic deeds and therefore our work was not that simple." So begins the first story, "Distant Stars."

Born in 1949, Le Minh Khue was no stranger to the vagaries of Land Reform politics and war. Colored by her stint as a war correspondent in Vietnam, Khue's level gaze lingers over the shambles of a war-torn country and its reconstruction to examine the soul of a people whose culture has all but been destroyed.

The Stars, the Earth, the River contains an excellent introduction by the translators, grounding the stories in Le Minh Khue's personal history; the narrator of "A Day on the Road" speaks from having witnessedthe carnage of war. You simultaneously feel the rage of the author and the narrator when Khue disparagingly notes that the conversations around her center on luxuries, motor scooters, and business deals. Of what use, these stories ask, is such suffering? How can a culture honor the losses of war?

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