Why Vietnam's best-known author has stayed silent

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It was a soldier's story, set in battlefields of rotted corpses and the tortured soul of a young teenager who went off to serve his country, and when the novel was published in 1991 it brought Bao Ninh the closest thing in Vietnam to instant literary celebrity.

Ninh never published again - although he is believed to have finished another novel about the war, called Steppe, that he has hesitated to submit for publication.

'I stopped myself. I kept holding myself back,' Ninh told The Observer in a rare interview at his home in a section of central Hanoi favoured by middle-ranking officials. 'I compared everything I wrote to everything I wrote in the past, and it's not natural like it was before.'

The long silence from one of Vietnam's best-known authors is telling of the enduring sensitivities about the war with America. Washington and Hanoi have committed to a path of reconciliation. President George Bush spent the weekend in Hanoi, discussing closer co-operation on security with Vietnam's communist rulers.

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