THE EXILE OF SERGEANT NEN by Stephen Fleming
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THE EXILE OF SERGEANT NEN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Crisp, spare, intelligent first novel about a Vietnamese career soldier living in the US after the fall of Saigon. His parents both dead, Nen follows (for 25 years) the life of a Vietnamese soldier, fighting first with the French against the Viet Minh, later alongside the often uninformed, or misinformed, Americans. Honest, principled, and disdainful of the dishonesties of politics, Nen throughout his career has refused promotions, choosing to remain a sergeant rather than--like his own civil-servant brother-in-law--becoming inevitably involved in the shadowy and corrupt ""official"" world of big-money intrigue, torture, forced payoffs, and assassination. Nen has, in fact, already earned the vengeance of his brother-in-law's mysterious Vietnamese ""employer,"" an unnamed fat man who functions as a high-level political agent and assassin (one of those money-backed figures Nen regards as ""parasites""); Nen incurred this wrath way back in 1967 by rescuing a village woman from death-by-torture during an ""interrogation"" at the fat man's hands (the woman, in fact, had no information, which Nen knew and the fat man denied). The result is that, some years later, the fat man resurfaces in the US, where Nen works as maitre d' in his brother-in-law's restaurant in Arlington, Virginia. Working with other Vietnamese exiles of erstwhile high rank, the fat man functions as a right-wing gangster-extortionist, all for the purpose of raising money for a new Vietnamese army of liberation--aimed at regaining the lost assets of the ""parasites."" Nen, by sticking to his principles of honesty, decency, and soldierly craft, outwits the extortionists, frees himself from their grip, and sets out--with the American woman he's come to love--on a life of his own. Understated and knowledgeable, Fleming's narrative owes more to Hemingway and Graham Greene than to the hyped-up trickeries of much pop intrigue, and in Sergeant Nen himself, a man of thought as much as a man of action, readers will find a quiet and modest hero who lingers in memory well beyond the last page. Quality work, with attendant pleasures.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1986
Publisher: Algonquin