Picks and Pans Review: The Deep Green Sea
In a deceptively understated manner, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Robert Olen Butler introduces us to a pair of improbable modern lovers: Ben is an aging Vietnam vet, haunted by war dreams, who has returned to Saigon "because of a desire just like that one you can have about sex, the desire for things to be whole." Tien, a virginal tour guide, is the daughter of a barmaid who used to sell her body to American GIs, one of whom is Tien's father. Since her mother fled Saigon in 1975 in fear of what the triumphant North Vietnamese might do to women who consorted with Americans, Tien (who was abandoned) has been grappling alone with her mixed-race heritage and the perils of the modern communist state. In each other's arms, Ben and Tien discover a sensuality and solace that had been lacking in both their lives.
Bit by bit, as they shed their outer garments, the lovers also shed their respective layers of mistrust and fear, revealing their darkest inner secrets. The unsettled Ben confesses to a wartime love affair with a Vietnamese woman who was a prostitute; Tien reveals that she prays daily for the spirit of the father whom she has never met, a man who she has been told perished in the war. In that sharing, Butler plants the seeds of a tragedy that will haunt his readers long after they finish this lyrical love story. (Holt, $23)