In her study of Vietnamese and Vietnamese American literary studies, Marguerite Nguyen proposes an interdisciplinary approach based on genre aesthetics and historicizing in America's Vietnam: The Longue Durée of U.S. Literature and Empire to demonstrate how “genre has significantly shaped American portrayals of transnational encounter as they have evolved through the space and idea of Southeast Asia and across a longer history” (p. 2). Explicitly calling on a longue durée approach, Nguyen highlights how the United States had already established contact and trade with Vietnam as early as the late nineteenth century and therefore calls into question the narrative in which the Vietnam War was the point of departure for both American political investment in Vietnam and American literary history.

Taking up the longue durée, Nguyen opens up Vietnam to include prewar histories and to analyze otherwise little-known cultural production, including John White's nineteenth-century American sea story History of a Voyage to the China Sea (introduction) and Harry Hervey's 1920s–1930s American melodramas of French Indochina in Congaï (chapter 1). Nguyen uses the longue durée model of Fernand Braudel to situate her formalist and historicist approach, saying, “[I focus] on the formal strategies by which we configure and reconfigure the past, present, and future. The radical potential of a longue durée outlook lies in its recognition of both historical continuity and rupture and its openness to cross-spatial and cross-temporal dialogues” (p. 5). For Nguyen, the formal strategies deployed by different genres interrogate the construction and persistence of certain narratives of Vietnam and of the Vietnam War. Drawing from Asian American literary studies, Nguyen positions genre as an analytic that gives rise to considerations of social content, literary form, and material circumstances.

Genre becomes the organizing logic of each section that tracks the longue durée of American representations of Vietnam from the two earlier genres of sea story and melodrama to cookbooks, memoirs, journalism, epistolary forms, and literary magazines. With each genre, Nguyen tracks the change of the American narrative of Vietnam over time. Chapter 1 considers Hervey's Congaï within the longue durée from French colonial rule to American military occupation. Working with its different manifestations as a novel, play, and screenplay, Nguyen reads how melodrama constructs an American savior discourse and how, at the same time, its inconsistencies belie the structures of American empire that are already in place.

Chapter 2 shifts toward Vietnamese American literary production with Monique Truong's novel The Book of Salt (2003) and how it draws from and speculates further on Alice B. Toklas's The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book (1954). Nguyen tracks the brief mentions of Indochinese cooks in Toklas's cookbook and Truong's imagining of Binh, a Vietnamese exile who worked in the French colonial kitchen in Indochina and now works in the kitchen of Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, to consider the genre of the cookbook and how it implicates discussion of the exploitation and circulation of food and labor under empire. Furthermore, Nguyen considers how Truong's novel opens up modernist poetry and life under empire to queer, decolonizing critiques.

Nguyen explicitly deals with the Vietnam War narrative in chapter 3's analysis of Michael Herr's Dispatches. Arguing that Herr “is the central architect of America's Vietnam War discourse,” Nguyen reads how the memoirist, gothic qualities of Herr's journalism enacts a practice of fragmentation in terms of language and syntax as well as the Vietnamese body that privileges the American soldier's experience of the Vietnam War (p. 85). Importantly, Nguyen de-exceptionalizes Herr's Vietnam by working through the longue durée of the Vietnamese body and its dismembering with Pierre Diulefils's 1908 postcard series and Võ An Ninh's 1945 photographs. Juxtaposing Trần Đức Thảo philosophical writings and Ocean Vuong's poetry on genesis with Herr's journalism, Nguyen “takes exception to this exceptionalism” and considers the genre of the epistolary and the diary to reconsider the fragmentation within the experience and consciousness of empire and postcoloniality (p. 118).

Chapter 4 moves to the Vietnamese-language writings by Vietnamese refugee Võ Phiến. Nguyen contends that Võ Phiến's The Letters to a Friend series complicates the narration of the refugee experience through indebtedness and takes into account the epistolary genre as positing an early conception of the Vietnamese diasporic experience. Significant in chapter 4 and in the conclusion is Nguyen's engagement with Vietnamese-language works to be considered against America's Vietnam produced in English and within the longue durée of Vietnamese and Vietnamese diasporic production: “Vietnamese-language literature becomes an important, distinct space for refracting the pressures of dominant English to consider how American hegemony works across the century” (p. 144).

Closing America's Vietnam, Nguyen reads South Vietnamese literary magazines as a way to think about the different flows to and from Vietnam and the United States in terms of literary production as well as populations. Literary magazines Văn and Văn Học highlight the transnationalizing of American literature with issues dedicated to William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, and Black voices. Through the literary milieu produced by these magazines, Nguyen shows “literary routes and genres do not simply move from center to periphery or assume dominate forms, such as the novel, but in fact take refracted, circuitous routes and varied generic shapes” (p. 160).

America's Vietnam proposes robust formalist and historicist readings of genres that construct narratives of Vietnam within and against American empire. In doing so, Nguyen introduces a literary archive that has great potential for providing nuances to literary studies of Vietnamese American and Vietnamese diasporic cultural production. Because of the breadth of historical engagement and aesthetic concerns, America's Vietnam at times reads unevenly and at other times as a catalog of various texts within such a diverse archive; it nonetheless suggests the capaciousness and the ambition of Nguyen's project and its investment in the study of literary genre over the longue durée of American empire in Vietnam. Moreover, Nguyen offers insightful ways to engage with the diverse cultural production on Vietnam by Western, Vietnamese, and Southeast Asian writers in English and Vietnamese.