Novel Without a Name is the story of a young platoon commander, Quan, who struggles to find his identity in the confusion of the last days of the Vietnam War. Ten years before the novel opens, Quan joins the army with his boyhood friends, Bien and Luong. Each represents a different response to the search for identity in the chaos of war. By the time of the novel’s opening, Luong has risen in the ranks of the army; he is an officer at division headquarters and deputy to the commander. He accepts and disseminates Party ideology, finding a space for himself in the bureaucracy of war. Bien, on the other hand, never rises above sergeant. The deprivations of the war lead him to mental illness, and he is imprisoned as a lunatic. Quan’s struggle for identity is the most complicated.
At the heart of the book is Quan’s journey, taken under Luong’s orders, into the interior of Vietnam to free Bien from his imprisonment. As Quan travels, he reflects, dreams, and hallucinates about the horrors of the war. Quan recalls the glory showered on the three friends when they joined the army, contrasting it to the death and destruction around him. He strives to find meaning in his encounters with an old man and child, with a woman whose job it is to bury the dead, and with a skeleton he finds hanging in a hammock. When he encounters Party officials on a train and hears their cynical assessment of the Vietnamese people, he begins to suspect that his only...
(The entire section is 407 words.)