The Nonlinear Structure of The Sorrow of War and its Distortion of Kien and Phuong's Relationship to Create Character Depth to Kien
Bao Ninh is a Vietnamese war veteran and the author of what is said to be "one of the most moving war novels of all time" (Gareth Smith), The Sorrow of War. In the epic tale, Bao tells the story of Kien in a nonlinear narrative, weaving in and out of stories of young love and war, each failing to complete its own objectives: to come home and live in peace with those they love. It compares the 'sorrow of war' to the sorrow of love, both nostalgic as Kien looks back on what has been lost, and the heartbreak created. Bao compares the two sorrows by intertwining flashbacks and events occurring in the present. Bao writes very straight-forwardly when speaking of war, but leaves much to be explained when describing the seemingly complicated relationship of Kien and Phuong. The nonlinear structure, non-chronological sequence of events, and Bao's saving of key information until the very end of the novel, distorts the view of their relationship so that it appears to be a more hostile than loving. This technique creates character depth in Kien, describing why he becomes the man he does: sad and full of regret.
In the novel Kien's best friend from the war, Oanh, is killed by a beautiful woman on the front lines. It is mentioned multiple times in the novel that Phuong had wanted to participate in fighting in the war, as she made clear the night before Kien left for war, stating "I'll see you to the gate of the battlefront, just to see what it's like" (136). This event is a major turning point in the tone that Kien and Phuong's relationship is discussed. This event is a reminder of the loss he suffered by leaving her as well as reminding Kien of all the things he loved about her, including her beauty and strength.
Before the death of Oanh, Kien appears to be more focused on the negative aspects in their relationship, such as their...
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