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Following the Vietnam War, Butler began writing. He teaches creative writing at McNeese State University. Robert Olen Butler. Robert Olen Butler's lyrical and poignant collection of stories about the aftermath of the Vietnam War and its impact on the Vietnamese was acclaimed by critics across the nation and won the Pulitzer Prize in Thap's wife and two children expected to be safe because someone was supposed to know whose family they were.

They stayed and they were murdered by the VC and Thap made a choice.

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He turned away again and he stared at the cigarette, watched the curl of smoke without drawing it into him. I said, "But isn't that just the war? I thought you were a believer. And he did.

A Good Scent From A Strange Mountain (excerpt)

I believe in the government caring for all the people, the poor before the rich. I believe in the state of personal purity that makes this possible. But I finally came to believe that the government these men from the north want to set up can't be controlled by the very people it's supposed to serve. He took a last drag on his cigarette and then leaned forward to stub it out in an ashtray at the corner of my desk.

He sat back and folded his hands in his lap and his face grew still, his mouth drew down in placid seriousness.

I learned about their history. What they believe is good. I admit that my first impulse at this was to challenge him. He didn't know anything about the history of Western democracy until after he'd left the communists. They killed his wife and his children and he wanted to get them.

But I knew that what he said was also true. He was a believer. I could see his Buddhist upbringing in him. The communists could appeal to that. They couldn't touch the Catholics, but the Buddhists who didn't believe in all the mysticism were well prepared for communism. The communists were full of right views, right intentions, right speech, and all that.

A good scent from a strange mountain

And Buddha's second Truth, about the thirst of the passions being the big trap, the communists were real strict about that, real prudes. If a VC got caught by his superiors with a pinup, just a girl in a bathing suit even, he'd be in very deep trouble. That thing Thap said about personal purity.

After it sank in a little bit, it pissed me off. But this is a weakness of my own, I guess, though at times I can't quite see it as a weakness. I'm not that good a Buddhist. I live in America and things just don't look the way my mother and my grandmother explained them to me. But Thap suddenly seemed a little too smug. And I wasn't frightened by him anymore.

He was a communist prude and I even had trouble figuring out how he'd brought himself to make a couple of kids. Then, to my shame, I said, "You miss being with your wife, do you? Changing my question as I did, even as I spoke it, I thought I would never get the answer to what I really wanted to know. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I felt a flush spread from under my chin and up my face. It was only a minor attack of shame until I saw what was happening before me.

I suppose it was the suddenness of this question, its unexpectedness, that caught him off guard. It's an old interrogation trick. But Thap's hands rose gently from his lap and I knew they were remembering her. It all happened in a few seconds and the hands simply lifted up briefly, but I knew without any doubt that his palms, his fingertips, were stunned by the memory of touching her.

Then the hands returned to his lap and he said in a low voice, "Of course I miss her. I asked him no more questions, and after he was gone, my own hands, lying on the desktop, grew restless, rose and then hid in my lap and burned with their own soft memories. I still had a wife and she had not been my wife for long before I'd had to leave her.

I knew that Thap was no ghost but a man and he loved his wife and desired her as I loved and desired mine and that was within the bounds of his purity. He was a man, but I wished from then on only to stay far away from him.


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The infantry guys had their own interpreter and I wouldn't have to deal with Thap and I was very glad for that. Less than a week later, however, I saw him again. It was on a Sunday.

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First there was the popping of small arms for a few minutes and then a long roar, the mini-guns on the Cobras as they swooped in, and then there was silence. And a few times as I sat there, I thought of Thap. Maybe it was my wife who brought him to me, the link of our yearning hands. But it wasn't until the evening that I actually saw him.

It was in the officers' club. Sometimes they had a film to show and this was one of the nights.

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First Edition Points to identify A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler

Captain Townsend got me there early to help him move the wicker chairs around to face the big bed sheet they'd put up at one end for a screen. Townsend wouldn't tell me what the film was. When I asked him, he just winked and said, "You'll like it, mate," and I figured it was another of the Norman Wisdom films. This little man, Wisdom, was forever being knocked down and tormented by a world of people bigger than him. Townsend knew I didn't like these films, and so I decided that was what the wink was all about.

Thap came in with a couple of the infantry officers and I was sorry to see that their interpreter wasn't with them. I couldn't understand why they had him here. I guess they were trying to make him feel welcome, a part of their world. I still think that. They just didn't understand what sort of man he was. They clapped him on the back and pointed to the screen and the projector, and they tried their own few words of Vietnamese with him and some of that baby talk, the pidgin English that sounded so ridiculous to me, even with English being my second language.


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I didn't think Thap would like Norman Wisdom either. Thap and I were both little men. Open Arms 1 16 Mr. See All Customer Reviews. Shop Books. Read an excerpt of this book! Never used!.