Robert Olen Butler had already published five novels—most of them concerning Vietnam during the war era—when he brought out his collection A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain in 1992. This volume of short stories—all of which featured unique narrators but were set in Louisiana among Vietnamese immigrants—drew immediate critical applause and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993.
Reviewers praised many of the fifteen stories, but one, the title story, was also selected for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories of 1992. This story, which is told by a man close to a century old, obliquely discusses several of the different types of people affected by the troubles in Vietnam. There are the narrator’s son-in-law and grandson, who get involved in the murder of a fellow immigrant who speaks out in favor of cooperating with the present government in Vietnam. There is his daughter, who represents holding on to the traditions that have long been part of the Vietnamese family. There is Ho Chi Minh, the nationalist who led his country to independence and communism. And there is the narrator himself, Dao, who chose the difficult route of remaining uninvolved and peaceful through the long years that Vietnam struggled and fought. Dao’s reminiscences and attempts to bring harmony to his own life at the moment he approaches his death lend a definitive closing note to this volume, which one reviewer said ‘‘offers tales of heroism not in corporeal battle but in the spiritual struggle for faith and hope in the face of betrayal and impossibility.’’