This is an awarded Pulitzer Price novel about stories of Vietnam immigrants to the United States. In order to study this, it is important to start with the background of its author, Robert Olen Butler, Jr. He was born in “January 20, 1945 in Granite City, Illinois.” He studied and “majored in theatre” and got a “degree in oral interpretation.” In 1971, he served in Vietnam as “U. S. Army counterintelligence linguist.”
This enabled Butler to experience the culture of Vietnam that no other foreigners could easily have. His acute familiarity of the Vietnamese language and culture helped him “develop the authentic Vietnamese characters in his fiction.”
When he returned home, he got a lot of jobs from being a “high school teacher to becoming an editor-in-chief of a business newspaper in Manhattan.” Afterwards, he began teaching in Louisiana where a large population of Vietnamese can be found, thus “inspiring” him to write A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain. (Witalec, J. vol 162).
This novel has fifteen short stories of different Vietnamese immigrants to the United States. The first among the short stories is “Open Arms.” This is a story of a Vietnamese who worked as an Australian spy even though his family was killed by the communists. He killed an Australian soldier and himself after watching a pornographic film. This is because he is still a communist by heart and watching pornographic films after his family died is too immoral for him.
The next story is about a Catholic Vietnamese girl who has a parrot named “Mr. Green,” owned previously by her late grandfather. This is an issue of gender because her grandfather said she cannot guard his soul because she’s a girl. She brought the parrot to the states, and when the parrot is old and dying, she just killed the parrot.
“The Trip Back” is about a grandfather who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and cannot recall his granddaughter. The husband of the granddaughter got scared because he doesn’t want to lose the memory of his loved ones like the grandfather did. “Fairy Tale” is about a Vietnamese prostitute who was brought to the U.S. as a wife of an American.
After she got divorced, she went back to prostitution and eventually met a Vietnamese and made her very happy. The next story, “Crickets,” is about a father trying to teach his son to be Vietnamese-like because the son grew up in America and totally clueless about Vietnamese culture.