Bao Ninh is a Vietnamese writer born on October 18, 1952 in Hanoi. He served as a soldier in the Glorious 27th Youth Brigade during the Vietnam War. After a multitude of violent battles, he came back home as one of the ten survivors in his unit of five hundred. The war had an immense impact on Ninh’s life, and the only possible way he could cope with the terror was to write.
The initial title of Ninh’s debut novel was Thân phận của tình yêu, which tells the story of a young man named Kien, a veteran whose job is to dispose of leftover bodies after the Vietnam War. As he continues to work, Kien endures flashbacks to the horror of battle as well as the abuse he suffered in his childhood. Ninh’s book is a brutal, harrowing story that addresses the mental repercussions of war and strongly reflects his personal experiences as a soldier. After Thân phận của tình yêu received moderate success in Vietnam, it was translated into English and published in the American/British markets as The Sorrow of War.
Upon its publication, The Sorrow of War garnered positive reviews from audiences and critics alike for its provocative portrayal of a war that took the lives of over one million people. Michael Fathers of The Independent praises Ninh for the multilayered nature of the story and how it explores the impact of the war on every facet of the protagonist. He states that “on one level it is a love story. On another it is about a writer, a burnt-out case, finding his way. It is also about camaraderie and lost innocence and class conflict. It moves backwards and forwards in time, and in and out of despair, dragging you down as the hero-loner leads you through his private hell in the highlands of central Vietnam or pulling you up when his spirits rise.” The masterful storytelling throughout The Sorrow of War ultimately led to its win of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.