Sometimes the further away in time you get from an event, the clearer it becomes. Time often enables historians to learn more facts and circumstances about, and fosters a more dispassionate view of, historical events like wars. The Vietnamese wars against France in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and against the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, have far too frequently been analyzed through ideological and political lenses, with both sides ignoring or downplaying facts that do not fit within their ideological-political agendas. The greatest merit of Christoper Goscha’s splendid history of the First Indochina War (1945-1954) is his unsparing devotion to letting facts inform his assessments and conclusions.

It’s 1951 and Jean-Luc Guéry, a perpetual ne’er-do-well, has arrived in Saigon from his native Côte d’Azur to look into the as yet unsolved murder of his brother. Guéry, a hack reporter for the regional Journal d’Antibes, has a fondness for alcohol and a weakness for gambling. His brother, on the other hand, was running a respectable business importing agricultural machinery but was found floating face down in the Arroyo Chinois with a bullet in his head. 

Unlike most memoirs about the immigrant experience that center around overcoming hurdles to build a new life, Jolie Phuong Hoang instead structures Three Funerals For My Father: Love, Loss and Escape from Vietnam around her father’s death as he tries to escape Vietnam by boat in 1985. Her younger sister also drowned on that journey. It takes Hoang three decades to come to terms with her father’s and sister’s deaths and her book tells their stories and how her father did whatever he could to bring his family to safer shores.

“I’m going to tell you the truth,” begins the narrator on the first page of Kim Thúy’s latest, Em, “but only partially, incompletely, more or less.” To put an even finer emphasis on the point, she tells us a couple pages later, that “truth “is fragmented”—as indeed it must be when dealing with a topic as vast as the troubled history of Vietnam. Departing from its brutal colonial entrapment as a rubber producing outlet for the French, cascading through the desolation of the Vietnam War, finally culminating in the strain of exile that became the sole reality available to those who managed to survive, Em accomplishes in some 160 pages what has taken many historians volumes to tell. 

Winnie Nguyen moves to Saigon in 2010 to teach English, but also to become a more resilient, stronger version of her biracial American self. Early in Violet Kupersmith’s new novel, Build Your House Around My Body, Winnie spots a banyan tree outside an old temple in Saigon and hopes she, too, can become like a banyan, “to encase Old Winnie completely in its cage-like lattice of roots and then let her wither away inside.”