cover image 40 Men and 12 Rifles: Indochina 1954

40 Men and 12 Rifles: Indochina 1954

Marcelino Truong, trans. from the French by David Homel. Arsenal Pulp, $28.95 trade paper (296p) ISBN 978-1-55152-923-3

In this magnificently researched and crafted historical fiction, Truong (Saigon Calling) explores the conflict between art and war through the little-known story of the the Việt Minh’s armed propaganda artists. Minh, a handsome young painter, is living comfortably in 1950s Hanoi when civil war breaks out. His wealthy father pulls strings to smuggle him to the countryside for safety, but along the way he’s captured and conscripted into the People’s Liberation Army. He ends up assigned to the Armed Propaganda Unit, a group of “artist-soldiers” embedded in the military to create communist propaganda. “Your job is not to inform the people,” his superior reminds him, “but to form them!” Truong avoids simplistic conclusions as he depicts the brutality and censorship of the military regime, the pre-revolutionary injustices that turned many to communism, and the universal yearning for freedom. In expressive rose- and sepia-toned comics, he brings midcentury Vietnam to life, from cosmopolitan Hanoi with its streets full of pedicabs and French-style cafes to lush rural landscapes and bombed-out war zones. This is a Vietnam war story like no other. (Oct.)