Some novels give pretty informative accounts of the war. Among the interesting ones are:
Ahn Junghyo [An Chong-hyo], White Badge: A Novel of Korea. New York: Soho Press, 1989. 337 pp. This novel about the experiences of Korean soldiers fighting in Vietnam as allies of the Americans was originally written in Korean, and was translated into English by the author.
James H. Amos, Jr., The Memorial: A Novel of the Vietnam War. New York: Crown, 1989,. 261 pp. Reprinted iUniverse.com, 2001. The chief character is a Marine lieutenant involved in Operation Dewey Canyon, 1969.
Donald Anderson, ed., Aftermath: An Anthology of Post-Vietnam Fiction. New York: Holt, 1995. xxxii, 272 pp.
Kent Anderson, Sympathy for the Devil. Doubleday, 1987. New York: Bantam, 2000. 416 pp. Army Special Forces.
Anderson, Robert A., Cooks & Bakers: A Novel of the Vietnam War. New York: Avon, 1982. 205 pp. Problems of command and control occupy the main character here, a young Marine lieutenant. He is given command of a platoon of non-combatants (cooks and bakers) during the battle for Hue in 1968. Some of the men are killed or wounded before the lieutenant can even learn their names, but in the end Marine discipline asserts itself and the platoon plays a part in retaking the city.
Anderson, Robert A., Service for the Dead. New York: Avon, 1986. 274 pp. Account of Marine infantry at war in the late 1960s. Mike Allison survives a few months in Vietnam before he is wounded and returned to the United States. Allison is in the field most of the time and frequently in combat. His experiences in Vietnam contrast with later experiences in military hospitals and with his parents.
Bao Ninh, The Sorrow of War. Trans. by Phan Thanh Hao. London: Martin Secker & Warburg, 1993. New York: Pantheon, 1995. 233 pp. By a veteran of the war. Vietnamese original Than phan cua tinh yeu. Hanoi: Hoi Nha Van, 1991. 283 pp.
Al Billings, Seawolf 28. Booksurge, 2005.
Don Bodey, F.N.G.. Rev. ed. Ann Arbor: Modern History Press, 2006. 284 pp.
William Buckley, Tucker's Last Stand. New York: Random House, 1990. 259 pp. A right-wing fantasy version of the events of 1964, with the Tonkin Gulf incidents turned into a conspiracy (President Johnson has the CIA deliberately fake an attack on the Maddox and Turner Joy on the night of August 4, 1964), and virtually every aspect of the background--the extent of North Vietnamese support for the war in the South and of Soviet support for North Vietnam, the nature of OPLAN 34-A, the mission of the destroyers in the Gulf, the very geography of the Ho Chi Minh Trail--presented with massive inaccuracy.
Josiah Bunting, The Lionheads. New York: G. Braziller, 1972. ix, 213 pp.
C. Buonanno, Beyond the Flag. Tower Books, 1981. The author was in CAP in Quang Tri, 1969.
Mark Busby, Fort Benning Blues. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 2001. 206 pp. About a man who is drafted in 1969, and in an effort to delay service in Vietnam, manages to get sent to OCS at Fort Benning. The author attended OCS there in the early 1970s.
Robert Olen Butler, The Alleys of Eden. New York: Horizon Press, 1981. 256 pp. pb New York: Ballantine, 1983.
J.T. Caldwell, The Chaplain's Assistant: God, Country, and Vietnam. iUniverse. An autobiographical novel; Caldwell was drafted in 1969, and served in 1970 as a chaplain's assistant in Vietnam.
Paul Clayton, Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam. New York: Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin's), 2004. 197 pp. The chief character goes through the Tet Offensive. The author served in Vietnam, but not on the Tet Offensive; he arrived in September 1968, and served in the 4th Infantry Division. This is supposed to be pretty good.
Tom Cole, Medal of Honor Rag. New York: Samuel French, 1983. 53 pp. A one-act play, first produced (perhaps in an earlier version than the current one?) in 1975. The play depicts a one-hour therapy session, supposedly occurring in an Army hospital in 1971, in which a civilian psychiatrist is trying to treat a black sergeant who won the Medal of Honor in Vietnam, but has severe emotional problems. The handling of the sergeant's trauma looks pretty realistic to me. Partly it is survivor guilt, partly it is the bloody killing spree the man went on, killing large numbers of enemy soldiers--this was the action for which he won the Medal of Honor--but still leaving him severely disturbed about what he had done. But other elements of the play are very unrealistic. I get a feeling the author had never been in Vietnam, or in the military. The play is clearly based on the case of Dwight H. Johnson, who won the Medal of Honor for action near Dak To on January 15, 1968, and died April 30, 1971.
Jeff Danziger, Rising Like the Tucson. New York: Doubleday, 1991. 358 pp. Supposed to be quite good and quite funny.
Lorna Dare, CIA's Gulf of Tonkin Secrets: A Novel Based on True Events. iUniverse, 2010. 236 pp. Judging from the description I have seen, this is just as fictional as Buckley's novel about Tonkin Gulf (above), but with a different slant. Where Buckley had President Johnson faking the second Tonkin Gulf incident and giving himself an excuse to escalate the Vietnam War, this one seems to have the CIA faking the incident, to persuade President Johnson to escalate the war.
Shaun Darragh, The Dega: A Mike Force Novel. Hellgate, 2011. 564 pp. The interaction between Montagnards, Americans, and Vietnamese, 1967-68. Darragh served in the II corps Mike Force. A revised version was published as Mike Force: A Novel of Vietnam's Central Highlaneds War. Warriors Publishing Group, 2015. 514 pp.
John Del Vecchio, The 13th Valley. New York: Bantam, 1982. xv, 666 pp. About an operation in the mountains west of Hue in 1970. Good.
Word of Honor. New York: Warner, 1985. 518 pp. Purely fiction, not based
on a real incident, but very specific: 1st Platoon, A Company, 5/7 Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, badly stressed after suffering heavy casualties, is
at a civilian hospital on the outskirts of Hue, Feb 15, 1968. In a highly emotional
confrontation, one member of the platoon shoots a doctor. The platoon ends up massacring
both medical personnel and patients, to get rid of the witnesses. The platoon commander, the hero of the novel,
who has tried to stop the massacre, covers it up. When a distorted version of the story comes out
in the 1980s, he is called back to active duty so he can be court-martialed.
DeMille's choice of the unit identification is interesting. I believe that the unit he cites was in Vietnam at the time, but down in II Corps, not in the area of Hue.
David Drake, Rolling Hot. New York: Baen Books, 1989. 280 pp. Science fiction, set in the future on a distant planet, but with the plot clearly based on the hawks' myth about the Tet Offensive: the guerrillas have shot their wad in a big offensive, and have effectively lost the war, but stupid, panicky civilians may hand the guerrillas a political victory.
David Drake and Janet Morris, Arc Riders. New York: Warner Books, 1995. 312 pp. Science fiction about time travellers who come back to the year 1968 to make the United States fight on, and indeed escalate the Vietnam War, after the Tet Offensive. They are expecting this to lead to American victory, but instead the result is utter disaster for the United States. Comparing this item and the preceding one, I find it interesting that David Drake, a Vietnam veteran (11th Armored Cavalry, 1970), has (if only fictionally) come down squarely on both sides of the American debate over the Tet Offensive.
David Drake, From the Heart of Darkness. Tor Books, 1983. A collection of fantasy short stories, some of them set in the Vietnam War.
Duong Thu Huong, Paradise of the Blind. Trans. by Phan Huy Duong and Nina McPherson. New York: Morrow, 1993. 270 pp. pb New York: Penguin, 1994. 270 pp. Vietnamese original Nhung thien duong mu. Hanoi: Nha Xuat Ban Phu Nu, 1988. 184 pp. The author is a dissident.
Duong Thu Huong, Novel Without a Name. Trans. by Phan Huy Duong and Nina McPherson. New York: Morrow, 1995. 292 pp. Protagonist is a PAVN officer; the main action is set in 1974.
Duong Thu Huong, The Zenith. New York: Viking, 2012. 528 pp. Previously published in French as Au zénith. Sabine Westmieser, 2009. Vietnamese original Dinh cao choi loi. Tells, among other things, about Ho Chi Minh, his mistress, and their very negative relations with other high Party leaders. I am told that Duong Thu Huong claims the novel is based on fact.
Daniel Ford, Incident at Muc Wa. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967. 231 pp. The basis for the film "Go Tell the Spartans."
Richard Galli, remfs. RGA Publishing, 2002. 320 pp. This was previously (2001) made available as an electronic publication, available at the author's web site, but I think that has been superseded by the print publication.
Richard Galli, Of Rice and Men: A Novel of Vietnam. Presidio, 2006. 368 pp. Booklist calls this a first novel, so it might be a retitled and/or revised version of the previous item. Supposed to be quite good.
Ben R. Games PhD, Confessions of a CIA Interrogator. AuthorHouse, 2007. Fideli Publishing, 2009. Supposedly a true story, told to Games by Joseph B. Kelly, who had served in Vietnam as a CIA contract agent under the name Gilbert H. Moriggia around in the late stages of the Vietanm war. The plot summary that the publisher gave to Amazon.com looks to me like bizarre fiction.
Patrick Grady, Through the Picture Tube. San Francisco: Robert D. Reed, 2000. An American who had dodged the draft by fleeing to Canada decides, long after the end of the war, to investigate an incident in the war.
Graham Greene, The Quiet American. London: Heinemann, 1955. 247 pp. New York: Viking, 1956. 249 pp. Classic account of a CIA man whose naive faith that he can find the solution to Vietnamese problems leads to disaster; setting approximately 1953. John Clark Pratt edited an edition in which the novel is accompanied by commentary, documents, and background information: The Quiet American: Text and Criticism. New York: Penguin, 1996. xxv, 515 pp.
Winston Groom, Better Times than These. New York: Summit, 1978. 411 pp.
G. S. Grosso, The Turncoat. n.p.: Xlibris, 2001. 325 pp. Novel about an American officer who is assigned, approximately late 1969, to investigate reports that there is an American serving with the Viet Cong in northern III Corps.
David Halberstam, One Very Hot Day. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968. 216 pp. About a US advisor with an ARVN infantry unit, about 1964.
Gustav Hasford, The Short-timers. New York: Harper & Row, 1979. 154 pp. This was the inspiration for the movie Full Metal Jacket. The author served in the Marines, approximately 1967.
Gustav Hasford, The Phantom Blooper. New York: Bantam, 1990. (A sequel to The Short-timers.)
James A. Hawkins, A Common Virtue. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2014. 240 pp. To the extent that I can figure out the plot from the publisher's blurb, it involves a Marine reconnaissance unit providing crucial warning about the Tet Offensive, and does not look very plausible.
Larry Heinemann, Close Quarters. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1977.
C. L. Hoang, Once Upon a Mulberry Field. Willow Stream Publishing, 2014. 392 pp. A love story set in the area of Bien Hoa during the war.
William Turner Huggett, Body Count. New York: Putnam, 1973. 445 pp.
Hwang Suk-Young, The Shadow of Arms. Ithaca: Cornell East Asia Series, 1994. Trans. from the Korean by Chun Kyung-Ja. 512 pp. Set approximately in 1967-68, in the Danang area, concerned more with intelligence work and the black market than with ordinary combat. Hwang, an extremely popular novelist in South Korea, served with the ROK forces in Vietnam and is a leftist.
James Janko, Buffalo Boy and Geronimo. Curbstone, 2006. 261 pp. About an American medic and a teenage Vietnamese peasant. Janko was a medic with the 25th Infantry Division in 1970.
Michael Jett, Secret Games. Gardenia Press [www.gardeniapress.com], 2003. 324 pp. Deals with CIA and SOG operations in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, from May 1967 through the Tet Offensive. Includes the way political manipulation of intelligence, reducing estimates of Communist strength in South Vietnam, contributed to the surprise of Tet.
Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007. 624 pp. A novel about a CIA deception operation in Vietnam. Won the National Book Award.
Kaiko, Takeshi, Into a Black Sun, trans. by Cecilia Segawa Seigle. New York & Tokyo: Kodansha International. Written by a Japanese who had apparently been a correspondent in Vietnam.
Wayne Karlin, Larry Rottmann, and Basil T. Pacquet, eds., Free Fire Zone: Short Stories by Vietnam Veterans. pb McGraw-Hill, 1973. 192 pp.
Le Luu, A Time Far Past. Trans. by Ngo Vinh Hai, Nguyen Ba Chung, Kevin Bowmen, and David Hunt. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997. 280 pp. The novel, originally published in 1986, won a major prize for fiction in Vietnam. It covers the period from 1955 to 1985. The author served in the war.
Le Minh Khue, The Stars, the Earth, the River. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone, 1997. xxi, 231 pp. Trans. by Bac Hoai Tran and Dana Sachs; edited by Wayne Karlin. A collection of short stories, set during and after the war. Ms. Khue served during the war in a Youth Volunteers Brigade and as a war correspondent; she is now a senior figure in the Vietnam Writers Association.
William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick, The Ugly American. New York: Norton, 1958. 285 pp. A very influential novel (really a series of separate vignettes). The basic idea is that the Communists are beating the Americans in Southeast Asia because the Communists are fiendishly clever, while the Americans are mostly naive and gullible. The only exception I recall (it has been a while since I read the book) is the chapter praising the exploits of Edward Lansdale, thinly disguised as "Edwin Hillandale," in the Philippines.
Lloyd Little, Parthian Shot. 1975. Story, said to be bizarre, of Special Forces.
Jesse T. McLeod, Crew Chief. Pb. New York: Dell, 1990 (hb. probably Daring Books, 1988). By a man who was in fact a crew chief on a helicopter. The cover gives a misleading impression this may be a memoir rather than a novel.
Dennis Mansker, A Bad Attitude: A Novel from the Vietnam War. iUniverse. Set in a transportation unit in the Saigon area, 1968. Author's web page, with link to a sample chapter
Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War. El León Literary Arts/Atlantic Monthly Press, 2010. 598 pp. A Marine unit in high-casualty combat in Quang Tri province; the author was a Vietnam veteran. The book has been favorably reviewed.
I.C. Modrick, Nobody's Warriors. Raleigh, NC: Pentland, 1997. 167 pp. Marines, 1966-67.
Gene D. Moore, The Killing at Ngo Tho. New York: Norton, 1968. 242 pp. Story of a U.S. advisor in Vietnam in 1962; the publisher described the author as a "colonel in the United States Army Signal Corps, stationed in Southeast Asia."
Robin Moore, The Green Berets. New York: Crown, 1965. 341 pp. This sold a lot of copies, and probably played a significant role in shaping American views of the Vietnam War. The U.S. Army had given Moore a great deal of access; he had spent about six months (roughly the first half of 1964) with various Special Forces units widely scattered across Vietnam. He claimed that all incidents in the book were true, fictionalized a bit primarily for security reasons. I have not read the whole book, but I have skimmed chapter 9, describing a raid into North Vietnam (indeed quite far north within North Vietnam) supposedly taking place around the end of 1964. I found the story in chapter 9 flatly unbelievable. The book was made into a movie of the same title, starring John Wayne, released in 1968.
Paul Morgan, The Parrot's Beak: U.S. Operations in Cambodia. Central Point, OR: Hellgate, 2002. 220 pp.
Tim O'Brien, Going After Cacciato. New York: Delacorte Press, 1978. 338 pp. O'Brien served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 in the Americal Division (see his memoir If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, listed under Semi-Fictional Accounts).
Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990. 273 pp.
Susan O'Neill, Don't Mean Nothing: Short Stories of Vietnam. New York: Ballantine, 2001. 272 pp. Stories based on O'Neill's tour, May 1969 to June 1970, as an Army nurse at hospitals in Phu Bai, Chu Lai, and Cu Chi. Revised edition, Serving House Books, 2010, 252 pp., includes two additional stories.
Michael Peterson, A Time of War. Includes Khe Sanh.
Donald Pfarrer, The Fearless Man: A Novel of Vietnam. New York: Random House, 2004. 560 pp. A Marine infantry company, 1967-68. This is supposed to be quite good. Pfarrer, a Navy lieutenant, served in Vietnam with the 7th Marine Division as a forward observer.
Donald Pfarrer, Neverlight. Seaview Books, 1982.
Pham Van Ky, Blood Brothers. A French-educated Vietnamese tries to decide in 1947 whether to join the Viet Minh.
John Clark Pratt, The Laotian Fragments. New York: Viking, 1974. 245 pp. Pratt retired from the Air Force the same year that he published this novel.
James R. Reeves, Mekong. New York: Ballantine, 1984. 309 pp. This novel is supposedly based on the actual career of a Navy SEAL named James C. Taylor. But it is wholly fiction; Taylor was never actually a SEAL.
Gayle Rivers (pseud.) and James Hudson, The Five Fingers. Doubleday, 1978. pb New York: Bantam, 1979. 339 pp. The plot, about an elite unit sent by the U.S. government through Laos and North Vietnam to China on a mission to kill a bunch of top North Vietnamese and Chinese officials, is a bit silly.
Robert Roth, Sand in the Wind. Boston: Little, Brown, 1973. 498 pp. New York: Pinnacle, 1973. Marines, from 1967 to the fighting in Hue during Tet 1968.
Pierre Schoendoerffer, La 317e section; récit. Paris: La Table Ronde, 1963. 252 pp. Paris: le Livre du Poche, 1966. 256 pp. Paris: Gallimard, 1973. 222 pp. A platoon of Laotian troops under a French lieutenant, in a very bad situation in northern Indochina in 1954.
Paul A. Scipione, Shades of Gray. Princeton: Prometheus Press, 1988. 326 pp. Corruption and the "Khaki Mafia" in Vietnam. Based on personal experience; the author was in the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam, 1969-1970.
Elmer L. Slavey, Memoirs of a Vietnam Fighter Pilot. 1stBooks, 2003. 264 pp. Supposed to be based on personal experience, by a pilot who flew F-100s and later F-4s in Vietnam.
Tran Van Dinh, No Passenger on the River. New York: Vantage, 1965. 243 pp. Reprinted: Fort Collins, CO: Pratt Publishing Co., 1989. A novel about the coup of 1963, written by a diplomat who in 1963 was serving in the RVN embassy in Washington, but whom Ngo Dinh Diem was planning to send to New Delhi to open up a line of communication with Hanoi.
Edward Vick, Slingshot. Bedford Press/Xlibris, 2002. 211 pp. A PBR going after a downed pilot in a dangerous part of the Mekong Delta. Based on the author's experiences in River Patrol Flotilla 5, 1968-69. Said to be quite good.
Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer. New York: Grove Press, 2015. 371 pp. Novel about a Communist agent in the RVN National Police who is ordered to join in the evacuation from Saigon in 1975, and go to the United States to continue reporting on the RVN officials on whom he has been spying. Said to be quite good.
Vo Tran Nha, Ba Dai Ta. Ho Chi Minh City: Nha Xuat Ban Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh, 1988. 251 pp. A novel based on the life of Col. Ho Thi Bi, a female guerrilla from Nam Bo. The author, Vo Tran Nha, is a military historian and served on Tran Van Tra's staff.
Vo Tran Nha, Nguoi con gai Nam Bo cam sung. Ho Chi Minh City: Nha Xuat Ban Van Nghe Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh, 1986. 265 pp. A novel about female guerrillas in Nam Bo.
James H. Webb, Fields of Fire. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1978. 344 pp. Marines.
Gene Wentz and B. Abell Jurus, Men in Green Faces. New York: St. Martin's, 1992. 288 pp. Wentz served as a SEAL in Vietnam; the novel is partly based on his memories.
Ellen Emerson White, The Journal of Patrick Seamus Flaherty, United States Marine Corps: Khe Sanh, Vietnam, 1968. New York: Scholastic, 2002. 188 pp. This novel is intended for juveniles, ages 12 and up.
Barry S. Willdorf, Bring the War Home!. San Francisco: A Gauche Press, 2001. A novel about anti-war activists trying to organize Marines at Camp Pendleton to oppose the Vietnam War.
Kenneth D. Williams, Blue Tiger. 1stBooks, 2003. 256 pp. Based on the author's 1967-68 experiences with D Troop, 3/17 Cavalry.
David A. Willson, REMF Diary. Seattle: Black Heron Press, 1988. Supposed to be pretty good; story of an Army clerk in Saigon, 1966-67.
David A. Willson, The REMF Returns. Seattle: Black Heron Press, 1992.
Edward Wilson, A River in May. London: Arcadia Books, 2002. 282 pp. Wilson served in Vietnam as a officer in the 5th Special Forces Group, but I believe the book takes an anti-war attitude.
George H. Wittman, There Was a Time. Philadelphia: Casemate, 2021. An OSS team parachuted into Tonkin in 1945 to work with Ho Chi Minh against the Japanese. The author was a CIA case officer in the 1950s and 1960s, but I don't know whether he ever served in Indochina.
Stephen Wright, Meditations in Green. New York: Scribner's, 1983. 342 pp. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 2003. 342 pp. A highly regarded novel.
Lt. Col. Henry Zeybel, Gunship - Spectre of Death. New York: Pocket Books, 1987. 280 pp. Zeybel flew gunships in the war, and his novel is reputed to be pretty accurate.
Return to Table of Contents
Next section: Semi-Fictional Accounts
Copyright © 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2019, 2021, Edwin E. Moïse. This document may be reproduced only by permission. Revised August 21, 2021.