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Louang Phou: Les gars du 97 (The Men of 97)

I am guessing this book was written in French and translated into English but it may well be that it was written in Lao and then translated into French and then into English. It is certainly easier to find in French than in English. The publisher is Neo Lao Haksat (it means Laos Patriotic Front) and, with books with titles such as Twelve Years of U.S. Imperialist Intervention and Aggression in Laos and A Quarter Century of Grim and Victorious Struggle, you can tell that this book is going to be straightforward propaganda, which is just what it is. As the title tells us, it is about a Lao military unit, the 97th, fighting against the enemy (when they are being nice) but usually against the Yankee pirates or the Yankee aggressors.

The story starts with the unit about to leave their village, where they have been working on the land. The women are worried at their departure, as they fear the arrival of the brutal Yankee aggressors. The (very short novel) then tells the tale of our brave lads, fighting the Yankee aggressors. The Yankees have the greater fire power, using planes to bomb the Laotian positions and following up with heavy artillery but the 97th manage to protect themselves and fire (presumably uselessly) at the planes with their guns. However, when it comes to open combat, the US forces are no match for the brave 97th, frequently catching the enemy unawares and beating them back. Even when it seems that the US forces push the 97th back, it is seen as a victory. Their tactics are far superior. For example, when they are fighting for four hills occupied by the US forces, they take the first hill, knowing that the US forces will come to regain it. They then are able to take the poorly defended other three hills, while still holding onto the first. They also rarely seem to get wounded and, when they do, it is only a scratch from which they soon recover. The one exception is when the US forces set fire to the forest. A Laotian soldier is hidden there but, in order not to give away his position and thereby show that there are Laotian troops there, he says nothing and is badly burned but, of course, does recover.

It is short and great fun, as we do follow the individual men of the unit. We read how they carry the revolution in their hearts but also think about their families and fields back home. We also follow the various battles and learn how they are able to defeat the Yankee aggressors at every turn. The Yankees, apparently, are only there for the money (an odd explanation) while the Laotians are defending their sacred homeland. It certainly is not great literature but still interesting to read and, if you can get hold of a copy, it will not take you long to read.

Publishing history

First published 1971 by Editions du Neo Lao Haksat
First English translation by Editions du Neo Lao Haksat in 1972
Availability: Out of print