The Moon of Hoa Binh


Cover art by Nguyen Quynh

Set in the intelligence underworld of Saigon in 1968 and at a scientific conference in Kyoto nine years later, the novel involves a murder mystery, a scientific exegesis, a metaphysical treatise, a psychological diatribe, through which aspects of the Vietnamese and Japanese cultures and their contemporary histories are explored.

Authors and Artist
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"Here it is -- the Vietnam War's War and Peace."
-Douglas Pike, Indochina Chronology

"One of the most remarkable novels of our time…contains some of the more serious reflections on art, science, history and sex written in recent years."
-Anthony Blake, author of The Intelligent Enneagram

"…could be called the first hypertext novel in that the reader can read it through sequentially, or read the Vietnam sections, then the Kyoto sections, the science sections, or crosscut scenes from other selected approaches…merits comparison with Tolstoy in its compassionate grandeur of contemplation of individual fates caught up in the intimate chaos of war; and with Malraux in its austere counterpointing of the existential horrors of civil war."
-John Allen, founder of Biosphere 2, in Seeds of Peace and Kyoto Journal

"…offers inciting psychological perspectives through a curious interplay of words, thoughts, and images. A reader so inclined may apply the work in whole or in part to a practice of self-examination and heightened sentience."
-James Banerian, World Literature Today


Written in concentric nestings which analogically model the creative process, with the idea shotgun set on broad-spectrum open-choke, as is always the case in the psychology of invention, this novel employs Joycean stylistic allusions drawn in relation to the natural and social sciences, the arts, literature and philosophy; these allusions suffuse the subtext, thus integrating the storyline, explications of physical theory, and reflections on historiography. Characters are not developed, but devolve non-simply on the basis of a quantal identity transparency mediated by collective psychological processes as well as transference relative-states vis-à-vis the protagonist. The pattern elements determining literary form are not the storyline's external events or inner states of streaming consciousness, but archetypal ideas appearing in exact recurrence nest-to-nest on a temporal twistor to constellate events and states interpreted by the reader as sequential storyline.

The novel consists of three storylines nested inside one another. The largest loop depicts the inner growth of the American protagonist, Derek Dillon, an intelligence officer working in Saigon during the Spring of 1968. The occasions catalyzing this psychological growth involve events associated with the investigation of a murder. A prominent Vietnamese literary figure, publisher, and member of the Saigon Municipal Council is found dead of an apparent suicide. His beautiful, brainy, and headstrong daughter does not accept that the death was due to suicide and begins to investigate her father's affairs in an attempt to identify who might have killed him. The protagonist is drawn to her and into this investigation which comes to focus upon intelligence-related information and unravels a network of espionage and revolutionary activities extending their reach to Japan. Final solution to the murder mystery does not come until nine years later at a scientific conference held in Kyoto, and requires untangling a case of scientific spying involving a Shanghai connection.


Spring on Berkeley Hills


Born in Nha Trang, Viet Nam during the Japanese occupation, (Nguyen Phuoc) Cong Huyen Ton Nu Nha Trang attended the prestigious Quoc Hoc school established in Hue by the Nguyen dynasty. A member of the Nguyen royal family, her long name specifies her exact relationship to the 19th-century Emperor Minh Mang. Having received her first publication royalty at age twelve for a short story entitled "A Bowl of Rice in Wartime", as a teenager she was a well-published poetess -- under penname Thanh Nhung -- and such a budding academic talent that the local scholar/teachers rallied and offered a scholarship fund to send her to University of Saigon. Subsequently, she received private fellowships, grants-in-aid, and Ford Foundation scholarships that took her for studies to Tokyo, San Francisco, and Berkeley. In 1973 she was awarded one of the first Ph.D. degrees in Asian Studies by UC Berkeley, specializing in comparative literature, folklore, and sociology.

Over the past twenty-five years, Nha Trang has taught and lectured at universities, and conducted research in half a dozen language cultures around the world. Her first book publication came at age eighteen, followed by numerous poems, anthologies, an annotated Vietnamese folklore bibliography, collections of Vietnamese folk narratives, and academic articles. Her many years of research were a prerequisite for the writing of The Moon of Hoa Binh which began in 1986 and was finished eight years later. Currently, she struggles to complete a long manuscript on changing roles and perceptions of Vietnamese women from the period before Chinese occupation until the present day, tentatively titled "IDEAL INTO IDENTITY --The Psychosocial Evolution of the Vietnamese Woman as Seen Through Creative Literature."


The son of an American Air Force pilot, William L. Pensinger spent three of his formative pre-adolescent years living in a rural Japanese rice farming village. While there, he was inducted into spiritistic and animistic modes of consciousness and identity. Much of his adult life has been spent trying to reconcile these rice-ritual, "transparent", nature-bound types of comprehension with the separated, individualistic Western sense of identity forced upon him later in life. His last year of high school, in 1963, also contributed to his quandry over these issues, because his father was involved in administering flight simulation research for the Air Force Systems Command. Climbing in and out of flight simulators and interacting with the scientists who developed this precursor of virtual reality technology was, for a seventeen-year-old, a formative experience.

Following training as a Special Forces ("Green Beret") medic, he found himself conducting intelligence operations in the Mekong delta during the Vietnam War, where he again encountered animism, this time informing the self-organizational behaviors of the underground VC political apparat. After the war, he followed a dual path: (1) a series of informal research and learning experiences with academic specialists studying self-organizing properties of complex systems, e.g. severe storm genesis, spontaneous autogenic brain discharges, pathogenesis of degenerative diseases, and (2) studied Japanese gardening with an old man, a 5th-degree black belt in jujitsu, who received his training as a gardener at the end of the Meiji era. The geomantic, random-walk method of garden design learned during this relationship led to a decade of intense practice of a form of walking meditation within which he was able to reach new levels of understanding of the modes of consciousness he was inducted into as a pre-adolescent child. At this point, it became apparent that writing a novel would be the best way to "fix" in awareness what he had learned. The next eight years were spent co-authoring The Moon of Hoa Binh with his wife, Nha Trang. Later, he surveyed the scientific archive of dolphin researcher John C. Lilly in preparation for its acquisition by Stanford University. His most recent writings have focused on application of quantum theory to homeopathic medicine.



Nguyen Quynh was a prominent painter in pre-1975 South Vietnam. When he left after the fall of Saigon, hundreds of his paintings remained, only to be destroyed. Subsequently, he received two doctorates from Columbia University, focusing upon the relation of Wittgenstein's thought to the logic of modern art. His work is part of the permanent Guggenheim collection and he has taught logic, art education, and art history at various American universities for the past fifteen years. Contained in the novel are numerous black-and-white prints and eight colorplates of major works by the artist. This art work does not so much illustrate the novel as make an independent parallel statement. For a recent show of the artist's works see the webpage of Tu Do Gallery

The Moon of Hoa Binh

ISBN 974-7315-69-6
1704 pages in two hardbound volumes
Illustrations, color maps and chart insert, color plates of artwork by Nguyen Quynh
A 100-page annotated bibliography

The novel is available through Bennettbooks

For further inquiries, please e-mail William L. Pensinger at

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