What is important to anyone curious is the thought that goes into the title of the book, or translation in this case: The Sorrow of War. It is short and effective, if a little plain, as it exposes the main theme of the book right away while inviting the reader to see how and why. It says what it says: war is bad. War will do nothing but take away everything one knows and loves. War shows the worthless sacrifices of the noble and the virtuous. War forcibly warps human beings into inhuman beasts capable of heinous deeds much like any serial killer. Lucky survivors are themselves cursed as they have to adapt to a society zombified by the infected wounds of past bloodshed. What was curious was the alternative translation: The Understanding of Love. Labeling it a war book in its title shows the most accuracy of what readers expect, but showing this loss through the perspective of love does not change the overall imprint the book leaves.
Through all the wars and torment, Kien often feels that he was kept alive through God’s will and that the purpose of it all is to get the message out. Not only is the writing process shown, but Kien fumbling through what to show is reminiscent of his sporadic memory. He is a sufferer of PTSD, manifesting through key moments to him while leaving other people clueless to the origin of his torment. His way of writing is a way of relieving this torment, but it is an everlasting cycle of reliving and relieving that leaves Kien as empty as a ghost. This torment begins when Kien was in high school. Kien’s luck in surviving skirmishes enables him to become commander in his twenties. However, this stroke of fortune serves as an eerie reminder of an early stamp upon his identity as a battle-hardened veteran surrounded by teenagers soon to lose their vigor. “Only he and Can were over twenty. All the others were still teenagers, still boys” (30).
More importantly was the awareness of this loss, particularly in the form of love. It presents itself through different illusions. Kien philosophizes about this loss: “War was also a war without romance. He couldn’t avoid the drain on his soul, the ruin his young men were escaping from as they set about squeezing the last remaining drops of love from their nightly adventures.” In fact, he goes as far as to think that any type of happiness is “…a bad omen, as though happiness must necessarily call down its own form of retribution in war” (31). In other words, any moments of peace and calm must be supplemented by tragic loss. After all, this is what keeps on happening to Kien and his many companions, particularly the sub-plot in which he is ever so close to reaching Phuong but something happens which whisks her out of his grasp yet again.
Kien would go as far as to establish vague connections with Phuong that pervades his tortured memories. “He had conveniently ignored the wild, romantic escapades of the three girls with their three lovers from his platoon because they reminded him...