A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

ISBN: 0802137989
ISBN 13: 9780802137982
By: Robert Olen Butler

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About this book

Robert Olen Butler's lyrical and poignant collection of stories about the aftermath of the Vietnam War and its impact on the Vietnamese was acclaimed by critics across the nation and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993. Now Grove Press is proud to reissue this contemporary classic by one of America's most important living writers, in a new edition of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain that includes two subsequently published stories -- "Salem" and "Missing" -- that brilliantly complete the collection's narrative journey, returning to the jungles of Vietnam.

Reader's Thoughts


I went through a long phase where all I ever wanted to do was bike across Vietnam on my way to Angkor Wat. I cooked Vietnamese dishes, watched every Vietnamese film I could find, looked for language classes, and explored some amazing authors. This one, any person would enjoy. It's a collection of short fictional vignettes written from the quirky, lost-in-translation or strange-but-true viewpoint of recent Vietnamese immigrants adjusting to new lives in the deep south. Much I could relate to, in terms of setting. My hometown along the Gulf Coast welcomed a Vietnamese and Filipino community in the early 70s, with the children of a few of those families becoming friends of mine since high school. I recall the author revealing that his manuscript had been rejected by hundreds of publishers. But Robert Olen Butler believed strongly in his stories, based on the truths of the Vietnamese community he'd come to know in his Louisiana town. When a publisher finally took a chance on it, the book won a Pulitzer Prize.

Shelley Fearn

Part of my duties as a librarian is to continually analyze the collection and sometimes I have to actually discard books. I hate to disappoint you all but not all books are keepers in medium sized libraries. This book came upon my desk when someone thought we could weed it from the collection. When I researched the book I found that it won the Pulitzer in 1993. That was enough to entice me to read it.I am so glad I did. It is a collection of short stories about Vietnam and the Vietnamese, many who came to the U.S. following the war. The stories are excellent. Butler writes in a lyrical prose that leaves you unable to choose which was the best story. I actually was brought to tears by one of them. He writes with such an understanding of the country and even its folkloric influences that I had to find out more about Butler himself. It appears he worked as a linguist in Vietnam during the war. He certainly absorbed the country's culture. A must read.His new book "Hot Country" just came out. I'm anxious to read a mystery written by such a master.

Tiah Keever

I was about to read Norman Mailer's "Why are we in Vietnam?" but decided I didn't want to read about the Vietnam War right now, then I randomly grabbed this collection of short stories off my book shelf. I purchased it months ago at Powell's from the Pulitzer Prize section when I randomly bought many books. I did not know what it was about and just delved right in. Funny how life works. My sister was on her way to go meet her Vietnamese father for the first time(well, besides the few months of her life that he was around before leaving)down in California and I was trying to sidestep Vietnamese war stories...This lovely little volume contains what else?- stories about Vietnamese immigrants who have fled from the war and wound up in Louisiana, which is likened to the the terrain and climate of Vietnam. Not having been to either I can't confirm or deny this, but I imagine that Butler must have some knowledge of this. Butler is not Vietnamese, he served in the war on the US side from '69-'71 (Wikipedia)and all of these stories are fiction but you'd never know it form the finely crafted writing. Several of the stories are from a woman's viewpoint and it's quite amazing how well Butler performs this task. I had never even heard of him before, and like I said I simply grabbed this book one day when I was adding some books to the collection(I just decided I needed to read some Pulitzer Prize winning authors to kick it up a notch)but his work is wonderful. Go forth and buy yourself a copy, or check it out from your local library. If you don't like this book than you don't like reading.


This collection of short stories won the Pulitzer Prize, and deservedly so. Robert Olen Butler is a masterful writer. He served in the military in Vietnam, and all of the stories involve Vietnamese characters. Many Vietnamese escaped from their country after the fall of Saigon, and more than a few of them settled in New Orleans, a city Robert Olen Butler visits often. If you write or aspire to write short stories, buy this book and study it well. ROB's characterizations are dead-on. And if you are interested in Vietnam, Vietnamese culture and Vietnamese people, this book will enlighten you. One example from one story titled Fairy TaleIn Saigon, a woman becomes involved with a Texan "who buys me Saigon teas and spends some time with me and he is a cowboy from the great state of Texas." And later, she says: "If you want to know how dumb a Saigon bargirl can be, I can give you one example. A man brought me to America in 1974. He says he loves me ... he can bring me to this country even before he marries me. ... But I say what the hell I love him. Then boom. I'm in America and this man is different from in Vietnam ..."Trust me, that's only the beginning of the story. The rest will enthrall you, partly because ROB has perfectly created her "voice," partly because of the story this Vietnamese "former bargirl" has to tell. There are 16 more stories in the book. Buy it and read it! It's worth every penny!

Tyler Jones

Back in my book selling days, Robert Olen Butler's Tabloid Dreams was, shortly after it came out, THE book all the cool kids working in bookstores were recommending to anyone who cared for a recommendation from a kid in a bookstore. I got caught up in the Tabloid Dreams hysteria that gripped my circle of co-workers for three weeks back in 1996, forcing countless unsuspecting Calgarians to buy the collection of short stories. What's that Ma'am? You like Maeve Binchy? Why then you will adore Tabloid Dreams! Looking for a book to help you pass the Canadian securities course? Tabloid Dreams! Then, couple of years later, I clandestinely read his earlier short story collection, Good Scent From a Strange Mountain. Only now, after fourteen years, do I dare admit it - Good scent is a better book. This book is all killer, no filler. After each story you read, you will say to yourself "that is one of the best stories I've ever read" - and the next story will be better.Butler served two years in Vietnam, both as a counter-intelligence special agent and as an interpreter. This background gave him a unique perspective into the hearts and minds (as they say) of the Vietnamese, which coupled with his extraordinary imagination helped to produce this amazing book. Almost all the stories are told from a Vietnamese person's point-of-view and most are told post war. Many explore the refugee experience in America. But here the similarities end, as Butler explores distinctly different personalities, values and dreams in each story. Less gimmicky and more true than Tabloid Dreams - and I still think Tabloid Dreams is an awesome book.


It was OK, but seemed to be the same story over and over. Plus, I could never forget that it was a white man writing. Seemed false to me. I didn't finish - I became bored.


This is a wonderful collection of stories that reveal the thoughts and lives of the Vietnamese people in their struggle to not lose their cultural heritage as they survive in a new land. It’s funny, sad, heart-felt, passionate and powerful and demonstrates the commonalities of mankind as well as our differences.


This Pulitzer-prize winning collection of short stories portrays the many ways in which cultures can clash, in this case Vietnamese and American cultures – during the war, after the war, immigrants to America, soldiers’ post-war experiences. While not all stories may not be appropriate for use in school (Fairy Tale tells the story of love between an American, Vietnam War veteran and a Vietnamese immigrant prostitute in New Orleans, and Love is the story of a man who used to provide false information to American spies in order to have his wife’s lover’s homes bombed), I particularly recommend Crickets. In this story, a Vietnam immigrant tries to impart to his American-born son a game he used to play with his friends, in which they would stage fights between wood crickets and fire crickets. Of course, his son is ultimately uninterested, and the differences between old home and new home, old generation and new generation, show themselves in various ways.


The 15 stories collected here, all written in the first person, blend Vietnamese folklore, the terrible, lingering memories of war, American pop culture and family drama. Butler's literary ventriloquism, as he mines the experiences of a people with a great literary tradition of their own, is uncanny; but his talents as a writer of universal truths is what makes this a collection for the ages.


I forgot that I finished this finally. I didn't throw it, but I definitely didn't like it very much. I think that writers CAN write from other points of view (just like readers can read and understand different points of view than their own) but all but one narrator rang false; what I heard behind the "Vietnamese" voice was always a white guy, probably from the midwest, who maybe went to Vietnam for a while. I can hear him working on it. Oddly, the story that had the strongest and most-likely-to-go-wrong voice (Fairy Tale) was the only one I liked.


Like all on this site, I'm a voracious reader. In my lifetime I've read thousands of books, including many of the great classics of literature. This book is my absolute favorite book of all time. The first time I read this book, I did it in a sitting. And then I proceeded to read it twice more in a 48 hour span. The prose is first-rate, with imageries that jump off the page. Butler weaves themes and phrases from one part of a story throughout the rest of the story to perfection. This book makes me want to be a writer; it makes me wish I had written that perfect sentence I had just read. The quality of stories ranges from superb to breathtaking. I can't say enough good things about this book. It is my all-time favorite.


This is a book of short stories about Vietnamese people, mostly in the large Vietnamese community in New Orleans. I was attracted to it because growing up in New Orleans, there were always tons of Vietnamese people around, and at my school, etc., so I was curious.The stories were mostly very dark, which does not turn me off at all. I like dark books with an edge. However, some of them were a bit too much even for me. Also, the stories that veered into dreamscapes and passages reminiscent of mythology tired me (mythology and dreams bore me instantly).My favorite story revolved around a Vietnamese couple and an American couple on vacation in Mexico, both having won their vacations on American TV game shows. Both husbands had fought in Vietnam, and they both bonded and clashed over this. The story is told from the very observant wife's perspective, and it was interesting all the subtleties she noticed in both men's interactions.


I feel bad giving this book only one star since it won the Pulitzer, but I did not like this book at all. It's a collection of short stories about Vietnamese immigrants in America. The dust jacket promised "lyrical" but delivered "short and choppy" instead. The stories could be revealing about the Vietnamese immigrant's experience in America, but the writing style is off-putting and frankly, doesn't make much sense to me. Even if the stories are from a Vietnamese person's point of view, and even if they don't speak English well, they wouldn't THINK in choppy sentences, would they?

Jeffrey Chase

This is a book of short stories, winner of the Pulitzer. It is a setting of the lives of Vietnamese, beautifully written, and incredibly moving. I have a hard time loaning this book to another, b/c I might never see it again. This is the best book of short stories I've ever read, even more so than Hemingway, Snows of Kilimenjaro. A great book, highly recommended.


I know lots of people love this book, but these short stories were hit or miss for me. The book romanticizes (or maybe anti-romanticizes)the immigrant experience. The overarching theme is Vietnamese immigrants having trouble assimilating in America. You’ve heard it before: the old ways are pure and spiritual; America is soulless and video games, etc., etc.Some stories were good. A few were excellent. Many made me roll my eyes. The worst was the longest story in the book about a Vietnamese woman who yearns to be close to her husband, but is so committed to tradition, she would not even touch him unless he initiates contact first. Instead, she obsessively observes her husband, constantly trying to decipher his moods and thoughts. (I mean, I hate to be unsympathetic, but for crying out loud. Touch his hand, see how it goes.) And it is all described in excruciating detail worthy of Ian McEwan’s Saturday. I mean, I see the literary value of this story, I just didn’t enjoy reading it.If you are nostalgic for the olden days and/or like Booker Prize winners, this book is for you.

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