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Unlike so many other Vietnam veterans who deal with the war primarily through the eyes of American combatants Robert Olen Butler an Army translator in Saigon in 1971 has opted to create a much wider spectrum of plot considerations and characters in The Deep Green Sea Henry Holt 23 to populate his fictive world A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain for instance was a collection of 15 stories told in the voices of Vietnamese refuges seven of them women who have been transplanted from the Mekong Delta region of their homeland to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana where Butler as it happens teaches creative writing at McNeese State University In the inter-connected pieces of that collection it is the Vietnamese who are tormented by images from the past they who are wary of their hosts and it is they who suffer sexual anxieties not the Americans veterans who appear as little more than essential counterpoints in Butlers narrative structure Butlers first novel The Alleys of Eden 1981 tells of an American soldier and a Vietnamese prostitute who seek refuge in the United States On Distant Ground 1995 focuses on an American intelligence officer who returns to Vietnam after the war in search of a love child he had with an aristocratic Vietnamese woman Readers familiar with these books will see resonances in The Deep Green Sea but there also are echoes from his other work particularly his 1994 novel They Whisper which concerned itself with the sexual history of its male protagonist Told through a variety of viewpoints including the imagined voices of the narrators various female partners They Whisper represented a dramatic departure from Butlers earlier work and caused a good deal of controversy when it was released By contrast the new novel is narrated in alternating sections by its star-crossed lovers Benjamin Cole a 47-year-old American veteran who goes back to Saigon now Ho Chi Minh City
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