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7 Must-Read Novels About the Vietnam War

Explore the depth, trauma, and complexity of the Vietnam War through these riveting novels.

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Novels about the Vietnam War are an excellent place to turn if you’re looking to explore the depth, complexity, and humanity of that conflict.

From tales of soldiers grappling with the moral ambiguities of war to narratives exploring the far-reaching impacts on families and societies, these Vietnam War novels offer a multifaceted exploration of conflict, love, loss, and redemption.

The Vietnam War has long been one of my favorite niche topics. I first became interested in middle school, when I read Fallen Angels (included in this list). China Beach was one of my favorite TV shows, and I was way too into the Broadway musical Miss Saigon.

Over the years, I’ve occasionally picked up books on the Vietnam War whenever I found one with a new perspective. But unlike novels about World War II, there are not endless books about this war that come out to large fanfare each year.

But there are plenty of books on the Vietnam War worth reading, both from the perspective of the Americans who were there and the Vietnamese who lived through–and after–this terrible war.

Books to Read About the Vietnam War

The Women by Kristin Hannah

The Women

Author: Kristin Hannah
Publish Date: 2024
Genres: Historical Fiction

After years of hearing about the heroic men in her family who served their country, Frankie McGrath decides to take the same step: she joins the Army Nurse Corps to serve in Vietnam. With almost no nursing experience, she is thrown into the fire and learns on the job, facing the worst traumas imaginable. Through two tours, she gives everything she has trying to save the soldiers and the Vietnamese she treats–only to be roundly rejected when she returns to the U.S. Even after the war is over, Frankie’s personal war has just begun.

Hannah has topped her previous winners with this novel: it’s sure to be on my best of the year list. The Vietnam War has long been one of my favorite historical fiction topics and I was thrilled when this book was announced. The stories of the soldiers, medical staff, and Vietnamese deserve to be told. This one happens to tell the stories of the women who served, who were invisible to many of the people there (I chatted with a veteran neighbor about this book and he confirmed that he never saw a Western woman in Vietnam–which meant he was lucky, because he wasn’t injured). Highly recommended.

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, a historical fiction novel about the Vietnam War

The Things They Carried

Author: Tim O’Brien
Publish Date: 2009
Genres: Historical Fiction

The Things They Carried is a historical fiction novel that follows the men of Alpha Company in the Vietnam War, including the character of Tim O’Brien (based on the author himself).

With lyrical prose and sensitivity, it examines the experience of the war, as well as memory, truth, and fear. If you have any interest in the Vietnam War, this is a must-read.

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Author: Ocean Vuong
Publish Date: 2019
Genres: Literary Fiction

This novel, framed as a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read, is a debut for poet Ocean Vuong. The son, named Little Dog, reflects on life with his mother. She is work-worn and sometimes abusive, exhausted by her lack of a homeland, her inability to read or speak English fluently, and her mentally ill mother who was traumatized by the Vietnam War. Little Dog grapples with his identity as a son, an Asian American, and a gay man experiencing his first romance with a troubled farm worker.

The prose and the story–especially the first three-quarters–are stunning. The writing is spare but poetic, and devastatingly insightful. Some parts caused me to pause and read them again to savor their brilliance. Notable here because the son’s perspective is the only view of the mother available, but the generational trauma is evident long after the end of the war.


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7+ Must-Read Novels about the Vietnam War

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

Fallen Angels

Author: Walter Dean Myers
Publish Date: 1988
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult

Perry is a teenager from Harlem who is sent to the front lines in Vietnam after volunteering for the service. Fallen Angels tells the story of Perry and his mostly Black platoon as they are repeatedly sent into the most dangerous assignments.

It’s a moving book about the camaraderie, unending fear, loss, and trauma experienced by these young soldiers. I first read this YA book in middle school and returned to it several times as a teen; I even listed it as one of the best books I read in school.

Message from Nam by Danielle Steel

Message from Nam

Author: Danielle Steel
Publish Date: 1990
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance

Paxton Andrews is a sheltered southern girl whose eyes open to the world when she goes to Berkeley and decides to become a journalist. She then goes to Vietnam to report on the war, writing a newspaper column about what it’s really like for the soldiers and the Vietnamese. Through her travels and reporting, she meets men who are on the front lines, and her relationships with them shape her life–while the war has its own impact on her and those relationships.

This is the only Danielle Steel novel I’ve ever read, but I loved it. I read this several times in high school and while there is plenty of romance (it is a Steel novel, after all), it also brought places like Saigon, Da Nang, and Cu Chi to life. I learned about the “tunnel rats” who bravely burrowed into the Viet Cong’s secret tunnels and the way veterans were broken after fighting this losing war. It’s been ages since I read it and I’m not sure how it holds up, but it looms large in my memory, and I think that alone is a strong endorsement.

Run Me to Earth by Paul Yoon

Run Me to Earth

Author: Paul Yoon
Publish Date: 2020
Genres: Historical Fiction

From 1964-1973, the U.S. dropped 260 million bombs on Laos in a “secret war” known as Operation Barrel Roll, meant to send a message to North Vietnam to cease support of the insurgency in South Vietnam. Through relentless bombings–equivalent to a planeload of bombs, every eight minutes for nine years–this novel follows three orphaned children who are taken in by a doctor operating a makeshift hospital. They serve as runners, navigating their motorbikes through treacherous fields of unexploded bombs. After years of insecurity, they are about to step on a helicopter to evacuate when they are suddenly separated. Multiple narratives walk the reader through their fates.

Yoon’s spare style can take a bit to get used to, but the horror of this story and the strength of the characters drew me in. I knew almost nothing about these events in Laos and this book brought them–and the people who suffered–to life.

Dust Child by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Dust Child

Author: Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
Publish Date: 2023
Genres: Historical Fiction

Past and present meet in this novel that takes us back to the Vietnam War, when two sisters work as bar girls to send money home to their parents. One of them falls for a GI named Dan–and she eventually becomes pregnant. Decades later, Dan returns with his wife, hoping to find the woman and child he left behind. Meanwhile, a Vietnamese man suffering from racism in Vietnam searches for some proof that his father was a Black American soldier, so he can find a way to America and a better life.

A poignant look at the effects of the Vietnam War, mostly outside of the fighting, and how they last for decades and across generations.

Do you have any favorite novels about the Vietnam War?
Recommend them in the comments!

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7+ Books to Read About the Vietnam War

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7 Comments

  1. I really liked The World Played Chess by Robert Dugoni!

    1. I hadn’t heard of this one–it sounds good. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. I discovered The Things They Carried when my stepson brought it home from school (I think he was a jr or sr). I picked it up because he wasn’t reading it (even though it was assigned reading). Wow! It blew my mind. Definitely recommending it.

    1. I love that it was assigned reading! Hope he eventually picked it up 🙂

  3. I LOVES The Women but listened on audio and it felt like a close friend was sharing her story with me. It me a long time to read bc I stopped to sob, no cry, SOB many times throughout. I realized that I knew nothing about the Vietnam War. I was born the year the war ended so I asked my old classmates if they remember if/when we did and verified that no, we were never taught a thing. It broke my heart. So I did a deep dive and have been reading a ton of NF books. In my reply I will share some great recommendations.

    1. A librarian helped me find some great books about the Vietnam War so I could learn as much as possible minus the itty bitty details. After reshelving, I took home and read three very good, highly rated & recommended NF books specifically about women in the war.

      “Defiant”
      The POWs Who Endured Vietnam’s Most Infamous Prison, the Women Who Fought for Them, and the One Who Never Returned
      Written by Alvin Townley 2014

      “You Don’t Belong Here”
      How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War
      Written by Elizabeth Becker
      2021

      “Women at War”
      The Story of Fifty Military Nurses who Served in Vietnam
      Written by Elizabeth Norman
      1990

      1. These sound excellent–thank you! I’d love to put together a nonfiction list at some point and will definitely look into these.

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