The Nonlinear Structure of the Sorrow of War and Its Distortion of Kien and Phuong's Relationship to Create Character Depth to Kien
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.
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He longed for her still" (71). Despite this, Kien's belief that "nothing lasts forever, including love and sorrow" (71) gives him faith that one day the pain will go away if he continues on his damaging path. This hope for the better despite the destructive path he has placed himself ironically shows his strength. The focus shifts from Kien's depression and his awful post-war relationship with Phuong to a discussion of their pure love before the war after Oanh's death. Before the war, Kien and Phuong were inseparable. The intensity of their relationship is best described through the narrator's mention of "neither of them had other close friends. Others seemed unable to penetrate their cocoon of friendship" (131). Phuong often refers to herself as Kien's wife, as Kien and the rest of Hanoi expects her to be. This part of the novel chronicles their shift from best friends to lovers, although their love was never consummated. Kien would never accept Phuong's advances to make love to him. This is what makes their love so true and desirable, because it is innocent and pure. His denial of her, however, also distorts the view of the relationship because it now appears that he does not want her or is not as attracted to her as she is to him, a feeling Phuong will later direct toward Kien. The love they share appears