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War and Shadows: The Haunting of Vietnam (Paperback)
  • War and Shadows: The Haunting of Vietnam (Paperback)

War and Shadows: The Haunting of Vietnam (Paperback)

Paperback 224 Pages / Published: 23/07/2009
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Vietnamese culture and religious traditions place the utmost importance on dying well: in old age, body unblemished, with surviving children, and properly buried and mourned. More than five million people were killed in the Vietnam War, many of them young, many of them dying far from home. Another 300,000 are still missing. Having died badly, they are thought to have become angry ghosts, doomed to spend eternity in a kind of spirit hell. Decades after the war ended, many survivors believe that the spirits of those dead and missing have returned to haunt their loved ones. In War and Shadows, the anthropologist Mai Lan Gustafsson tells the story of the anger of these spirits and the torments of their kin.

Gustafsson's rich ethnographic research allows her to bring readers into the world of spirit possession, focusing on the source of the pain, the physical and mental anguish the spirits bring, and various attempts to ameliorate their anger through ritual offerings and the intervention of mediums. Through a series of personal life histories, she chronicles the variety of ailments brought about by the spirits' wrath, from headaches and aching limbs (often the same limb lost by a loved one in battle) to self-mutilation. In Gustafsson's view, the Communist suppression of spirit-based religion after the fall of Saigon has intensified anxieties about the well-being of the spirit world. While shrines and mourning are still allowed, spirit mediums were outlawed and driven underground, along with many of the other practices that might have provided some comfort. Despite these restrictions, she finds, victims of these hauntings do as much as possible to try to lay their ghosts to rest.

Publisher: Cornell University Press
ISBN: 9780801475016
Number of pages: 224
Weight: 340 g
Dimensions: 229 x 152 x 13 mm


"In this engrossing account of spirit-possession illness caused by war ghosts in and around Ha Noi, Mai Lan Gustafson demystifies what are often perceived as mystical experiences without reducing them entirely to well-worn conceptual tropes. No doubt the book's greatest strength can be found in the vibrant and sympathetic ethnography of the wide cast of social actors involved in spirit possession. One theme that emerges as the book progresses involves the connections between angry ghosts and their victims as ways for the living to process wartime experiences, whether their own or not, through idioms of kinship, suffering, and social and moral responsibility. War and Shadows is a pleasure to read and a success in its own right. The book is also a clear introduction and guide to many issues salient to Vietnam Studies and would be an excellent teaching resource for lower and upper division courses on Vietnam."

-- Allen L. Tran * Journal of Vietnamese Studies *

"The work is a straightforward discussion of a phenomenon evidently experienced by hundreds of people. The narratives supplied by Gustaffson's informants are allowed to stand on their own, supplemented by contextual information that positions them in the broader framework of contemporary Vietnamese social life...Human relationships and human conflicts are given new meaning by the supernatural, and the presence of spiritual phenomena in daily life forces the engagement of individuals, families, and nations with the very real and very pressing legacies of violence."

* Journal of Folklore Research *

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