He wasn’t 19.

Such A Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961 – 63 by Marcelino Truong. Translated by David Homel. Arsenal Pulp Press, 2016. 9781551526478. 272pp.

This not-quite-all-ages autobiographical graphic novel opens in Washington DC in 1961, with the author’s French mother writing a letter home, upset at having to move back to Saigon in the middle of the Vietnam War. Truong’s father worked as cultural attaché at the Vietnamese embassy in DC but had been recalled by Vietnamese President Diêm. Truong’s mother is worried that all whites and mixed-race people will be killed if the Communists take over. Outside their house, Truong and his older brother play war, forced to take the part of Communists and endure racial slurs because the neighborhood boys think they look the part.

In Vietnam, the family lives an obviously upper class existence as Truong’s father works for President Diêm and his mother gets more and more anxious. (Her mental illness is explained in the book.) There’s an easy-to-understand history of the country and the conflict, as well as many fights between Truong’s parents as the war gets closer. The violence in Saigon  never really has much of a direct impact on the kids, and before things get really rough they take an extended beach vacation and then relocate to London. (There the boys face racism from the neighborhood kids, but by that point they’ve clearly had enough of that.) A short section at the end tells what happened to Vietnam and Truong’s parents.

Saigon is drawn in beautiful detail from a kid’s point of view — most of the pages’ black inks are accented with red, though there are a few totally beautiful, full-color pages sprinkled throughout. Truong’s art is a masterclass in how to draw almost anything in a straightforward, simple way, from a horseshoe crab to an antiaircraft gun, while it still managing to express character and the beauty of Vietnam.

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