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Research on Robert Olen Butler

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Research on Robert Olen Butler

The majority of published literature in the US derived from the Vietnam War primarily has a base focus on effects the war experience had on Americans, and on the American culture and psyche. However, Robert Olen Butler, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning, "A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain," as well as many other critically acclaimed publications has been recognized for "breaking the mold" of traditional war writers by constructing his narratives in the first person voices of the Vietnamese. In order for an American write to compose stories through the perspective of individuals from a culture considered so foreign from our own he would have to have accumulated a significant amount of experience and knowledge for his works to be considered legitimate. Butler himself is well versed in the Vietnamese language, has voluntarily participated in the Vietnam War as a translator, and has taught in a predominately Vietnamese American area. The question at hand is; do these facts alone allow his stories to be admissible as authentic works?

Robert Olden Butler was born in 1944 and grew up in the small steel mill town of Granite City, Illinois. (Butler 526) He was the only child father who was a retired actor and former chairperson of the theater department at St. Louis University, and a mother

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who was a retired executive secretary? (Layman 4) In a 1993 interview, Butler said "It was second nature for us to talk late into the night about books, movies, and theater." (Stowers 202) After completing grade school, Butler attended Granite City High School where he became class president and co-valedictorian in 1963. Butler attended Northwestern University and graduated suma cum loude in 1967. Once completing graduate school with an MFA in play righting Butler suspected he would be drafted into the military. So he enlisted in the hopes of being placed in an American field office doing background checks. He was transferred from Fort Louis in Washington to Fort Holibred in Maryland to complete a rigorous Vietnamese language training course. Butler was then transferred to Vietnam, where his linguistic skill enabled him to immerse himself in their culture and allowed him access to elements to Vietnamese society that were usually not open to foreigners.(Layman 11). After returning from duty, Butler became a high school teacher and then an editor-in-chief of a business newspaper in Manhattan. Working at night, he eventually published five novels that achieved some critical success but very few sales. Once Butler quit his job as editor he became professor at NcNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The large Vietnamese refugee population that has settled there became an inspiration for Butler's award winning "A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain." He has written a number of novels since then and is now teaching at Florida State University. (Butler 526)

"A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain" in its entirety in actually as compellation of short stories, but the stand out nature of the title story has made it focus of a great deal critical commentary. Madison Smart Bell stated that, "Many of the stories

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work similarly, but buy mapping a Vietnam legend into American situations."(3) The title story is written in the form of a monologue of an old man on his death bed." He finds that he is being visited by the ghost of his former friend Nguyn Ai Quoc; better know to the rest of the world as Ho Chi Minh. The

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