General FictionLarge Print EditionPulitzer Prize-winner Butler has come upon his heart of darkness . . . starred, BooklistThirty years after his tour in Vietnam, Benjamin Cole returns to the country where he lost his innocence and falls in love with Tien. Bit by bit, they reveal the pains of their lives to each other and find that their paths intertwine in a most disturbing way. To resolve a secret that they both fear is true, Ben and Tien travel together up the infamous Highway One to find the one person who knows . . .
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Robert Olen Butler is the author of seven novels, six of which are available in Owl editions, the most recent being Tabloid Dreams (Owl Books, 0-8050-5589-4), and two volumes of stories, including the Pulitzer Prize winning A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain. He lives in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
An ambitious, lyrical exploration of the lingering wounds of the Vietnamese war, familiar terrain for Pulitzer Prizewinning Butler (A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, 1993, etc.). Ben, a rootless American veteran, has gone back to Vietnam in what seems to be an attempt to recapture the strong, strange sense of being alive that his combat experiences gave him. It's a feeling that nothing in his life since then has matched. The country he goes back to is still suitably different, the aroma of diesel fumes and sweet spices in Ho Chi Minh City are the same, but the place also seems now deeply self-involved, withdrawn, wary. Except, that is, for Tien, a striking young woman who works for the Vietnamese Tourist Authority and finds herself powerfully, disturbingly drawn to Ben. Their swift courtship and rather urgent affair are rendered in a prose of great, simple power. Of course, given the history of their nations, their love is necessarily dangerousand fragile. It is made more so by their personal histories: Ben has never quite gotten over his love for a Saigon bar girl he met during his tour of duty. And Tien, who was raised by her grandmother after her mother, a prostitute, abandoned her, still longs to confront her mother and find out who her father was. Tien and Ben find themselves being swept up into an increasingly frantic search for Tien's mother, a quest that sets in motion a series of tragic events. But it's obvious to readers long before it's clear to Ben and Tien just what they're going to find, and the tragedy Butler is building up to feels simply too unlikely for it to be as moving as he means it to be. Butler's prose is precise, sensuous, and moving. While the novel falls short of its goal, it is nonetheless an honest and intermittently powerful attempt to find some redemptive possibilities in the lingering nightmare of that war. (First printing of 75,000; author tour) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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