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A Good Scent From A Strange Mountain

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1051 words Published: 5th May 2017

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The book A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain written by Robert Olen Butler, a famous modern American fiction writer, consists of several short stories which are narrated by the Vietnamese who live in the United States of America. This collection of short stories is built in such a way that all the characters are interrelated and serve to develop the main theme of the book: to depict both the Vietnamese and the Americans. All of the narrators are the immigrants who came to Louisiana from Vietnam in order to get their life back together after the Vietnam War. Their communities are separated by the North and the South lines as well as they were in Vietnam. Moreover they differ in the religious views as Catholics and Buddhists.

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It is known that this book A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain was a great success with the readers and even won the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 1993. That is why it is very important to pay special attention to some facts from the author’s biography in order to make a good analysis of the literary work and to compare and contrast the Catholic and the Buddhist as required in the essay.

Robert Olen Butler has a certain relation to the Vietnamese because he served in Vietnam in 1969-1971 as a counter-intelligence agent and later as a translator and even obtained a rank of a sergeant. May be that was the main reason of his great desire to write short stories which depicted the Vietnamese whom he considered to be “the warmest, most opening and welcoming people”. Due to his literary works thousands of Americans as well as the readers from other countries of the world have seen what kind of people are the real Vietnamese and the Vietnam War’s impact on them.

All the stories included in the book touch upon the theme of religion both the Catholic and the Buddhist. It is necessary to say that the main characters speak in the way of great spirituality and they are sure that that religion is a vital thing for them.

Let’s compare and contrast the Catholic and the Buddhist and then prove the fact that Robert Olen Butler made everything possible in his book A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain to show the readers the significance of religion in the life of any person. This theme is close to the author because he was the participant of cruel military actions of Americans in Vietnam, he saw the death of peaceful people, he felt their sufferings and sorrows, he obtained the understanding of their culture and language.

It is known that Buddhist does not believe in God and have no prophet. The Buddhist have neither a prayer nor a Bible. But the most important thing is that the Buddhist believes that when you dye you will reborn once again.

Speaking about the Catholic they have quite different characteristics of their religious concepts. The Catholics believe in God. They have Jesus. They can tell about their sins to the priest. They pray and have a Bible. The Catholic believes that after death they will go to heaven or hell.

All the events described in the book are connected with each other in a way. Here are the titles of the short stories which form the book:

  • Open Arms
  • Mr. Green
  • The Trip Back
  • Fairy Tale
  • Crickets
  • Letters from my Father
  • Love
  • Mid-Autumn and in the Clearing
  • A Ghost Story
  • Snow
  • The American Couple
  • A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

I think it is necessary to analyze some of them in order to see that all the characters have a religious basis in their actions.

For example the first short story Open Arms which begins during the Vietnam War pays the readers’ attention to the unmoral actions of the Australian soldiers who made the main character Thap to screen pornographic films. Thap was a North Vietnamese Communist who became the spy in the Australian forces. He could not put up with injustice and cruelty and at the end of the story he kills the Australian soldier and himself.

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The second story told by a Catholic woman shows that she does not want to put up with her grandfather’s idea of misogyny. She is Catholic, she lives in the USA. But the parrot is the only thing that remind her of her ancestors. She says: “I’m a Catholic, the daughter of a Catholic mother and father, and I do not believe in the worship of my ancestors, especially in the form of a parrot”. Her grandfather explained her that “the souls of our ancestors continue to need love and attention and devotion” but he did not allowed her to worship her ancestors because she was a girl.

A Ghost Story tells us about the spirit of some woman who was very beautiful. First she helps the men to avoid their death but after that she returns in order to eat them.

A Fairy Tale, the other story of Robert Olen Butler, tell about Vietnamese prostitute Miss Noi who came to the USA with her husband. She returns to the work of a prostitute again. But her meeting with a Vietnam War veteran changes her life.

She is a Catholic woman. Here the author again turns his character to religion: “I pray in my little room in Saigon. I am a Catholic girl and I have a large statue of Mary in my room. That Statue is Mary the mother of God… I pray to Mary… and I talk to her”.

Here and in the rest of short stories included in the book A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain we find that the author always refers to the religion. And that is the main point of all his works.

In conclusion I should say that Robert Olen Butler was the first writer who did not concentrate on the American Soldiers and the Vietnam War itself. His characters are mere Vietnamese with their problems and with their sorrows and joys. That is great that such a person as Robert Olen Butler could speak on behalf of the Vietnamese Americans. Although there are some critics who think that he maintains aloofness to the Vietnamese culture and that only true Vietnamese can write such stories. I do not think so because I am sure that Robert Olen Butler is an honest and high-hearted person who respects the language, the culture and the religion of the Vietnamese.


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