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Forgotten by their countrymen and with their homeland devastated by revolution and religious oppression, a group of French monks are left to create a world and new lives for themselves in late-eighteenth-century Vietnam "The soldiers had not sought to understand Vietnam," intones the narrator of Annam. "This was not forgiven them." This simple statement could serve as the epigram for the experience of both France and the United States in Vietnam in the 20th century, although in this case, Christophe Bataille is describing the agonizing end of a band of soldiers that arrived in the country in 1788. Annam was a 1993 prizewinner in France. At the time Bataille was just 21 years old. The very short book (fewer than 100 pages) tells the tale of French missionaries who sail to Vietnam escorted by the French military. Told in an austere, reductive style, the novel is a moral fable that lays out the historical context for two centuries of foreign invaders' misunderstanding of a country they could never really hope to conquer.

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