Packed with my travel duffle for a 5 week trip to South East Asia is one of the indispensable series of books from Whereabouts Press, this one Vietnam  A Traveller’s Literary Companion.  As is their practice, the press has chosen a knowledgeable editor/translator and sifted the available fiction from the country in question.

John Balaban teamed up with Nguyen Qui Duc, who lived in San Francisco for some years and contributed to the local public radio station. The book is divided into sections, including ‘Jungle,’ ‘Rivers,’ and ‘Villages.  There are sections on Hanoi and Saigon of course, and one called Remembrances.

Some of the selections are short pieces and a few are excerpts from novels, including one memorable scene from Duong Thuy Huong’s powerful novel ‘Novel Without a Name,’ reviewed here. Also in the jungle section is Nguyen Huy Thiep’s ‘Salt of the Jungle’ about monkey hunting and an encounter between the hunter and a monkey determined to save her mate which I won’t forget for a long while.

Nguyen Qui Duc’s contribution ‘The Color of Sorrow,’ isn’t as successful as others.  An expatriate Vietnamese returns from the US for a short week in Saigon and falls in love with a woman already promised to marry another ex Pat and go the US — a man she barely knows and doesn’t love but can’t change her destiny either.

As with all Whereabouts books this is certainly worth having on a trip.  I contributed to the Costa Rica volume and by now there are are over 30 for countries around the world.

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