Although Quang Nhuong Huynh’s book The Land I Lost is more a collection of short stories than a novel with an over-arching plot, it does have a number of recurring characters. These include not only the narrator himself but also a water buffalo named “Tank.” Tank is the explicit subject of the first chapter of the book, a chapter which is in fact named after him. Tank then reappears throughout the book, functioning almost as a pet to the young narrator. Finally, in the last chapter of the book, Tank is mentioned again, but in this chapter Tank is killed. Perhaps, then, the death of Tank might be considered the “climax” of the book. The loss of Tank seems obviously relevant to the theme of loss that is signaled in the book’s title.
The chapter describing Tank’s death is titled “Sorrow” – a title suggesting the symbolic significance of Tank’s passing. Tank is killed as French forces fight with Vietnamese forces during one of the wars that would transform Vietnam’s recent history. Tank’s demise is described as follows:
I led Tank and the rest of the herd toward the river, but suddenly I noticed that Tank was lagging behind and limping. I rank back and saw that Tank had been hit by a stray bullet which had passed through his chest. With my urging, Tank made it to the river, but he looked very weak when he lay down. . . . When the battle was over, Tank could not get up. He died about an hour later.
The death of Tank might be considered one of the climactic events of the novel for several reasons:
- It symbolizes, in a sense, the passing the narrator’s boyhood.
- It symbolizes the loss of one of the narrator’s closest “friends.”
- It symbolizes the loss of innocent life – the kind of loss that would now become increasingly common in Vietnamese history.