Saigon: An Epic Novel of Vietnam – a novel that weaves together the stories of American, Vietnamese, and French families from 1925 to 1975. For someone like me, who was born after the end of the American/Vietnam war and knew even less about the French colonization of Indochina, it was a good introduction to the complex history of Vietnam in the 1900s.
Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam – a beautiful memoir and my favorite read of the month. The author was born in Vietnam but fled with his family first to Indonesia and then to the United States after his father was released from Vietcong prison. Almost 20 years later, the author returns to Vietnam to bike the length of the country, visiting family and chasing memories along the way. The memoir weaves together the author’s experiences, past and more recent, with his questions about belonging and identity. I very much recommend this book, whether you plan to visit Vietnam or not.
Vietnam: Rising Dragon – a nonfiction exploration of the economic, political, and cultural realities of more recent-day Vietnam. At times, I was thrown by Vietnam, particularly by juxtapositions of communism and shops like Prada. This book helped me better understand (or at least helped me focus my questions about) how the country has been changing over the past decades (and has in other ways remained very much the same.) I read this book towards the end of my stay in Vietnam and at the times found myself skimming because the depth just felt like too much information for my last week – but that was me, not the book. If you’re seriously interested in (almost) present-day Vietnam, this would be a great read.