HANOI, Vietnam (AP) _ A short story by Vietnam's best-known war novelist drew harsh criticism from the army newspaper Wednesday for suggesting life in the south was better before the Americans left and the Communists took over.

Bao Ninh's short story, ``Insane Wind,'' is a tale of love set in a village in former South Vietnam before and after the fall of Saigon in 1975.

First published in a Vietnamese magazine in 1992, it was recently included in a French-language collection of Vietnamese short stories published in Paris. An adapted version of it is scheduled to appear in English next month in the British magazine Granta under the title ``Savage Winds.''

Its French publication, plus the praise Ninh has recently received in the United States for his novel, ``The Sorrows of War,'' sparked Wednesday's negative review in the newspaper People's Army, which stopped just short of calling Ninh a traitor.

``Bao Ninh has really become the open defender of those who committed crimes, the former U.S. aggressors,'' the reviewer, Diep Minh Truyen, wrote. ``His short story is like a knife stabbing his fellow combatants from behind.''

Although the war ended 20 years ago, authorities still allow only one interpretation of events _ that the United States invaded Vietnam and bribed a ``puppet'' army and government in the South to fight the North. Approved stories and movies show the northern soldiers as self-sacrificing and heroic and the southerners as corrupt and dissolute.

Ninh's story apparently contradicts the official line.

The People's Army review quoted Ninh as writing that at first the people ``lived decently ... protected by the American soldiers,'' while after the Communist takeover, ``the wealth and abundance of the good old days during the U.S. and South Vietnamese regime has gone, and everything seems to be rotten.''

``This part I had to read again and again to make sure I am not mistaken,'' wrote the reviewer, Diep Minh Truyen. ``I cannot imagine that Bao Ninh is a Vietnamese. Who asked the Americans to come and protect a Vietnamese village half a globe away from the United States?''

Ninh, a war veteran who lives in Hanoi, could not be reached for comment.

He faced similar accusations when he described the sufferings and alienation of northern soldiers in ``The Sorrows of War,'' a short novel published in 1991.

It was translated and published in England in 1993 and in the United States this year. It can be bought in pirated English editions in Vietnam but not in Vietnamese.

Nina McPherson, a Paris-based American who translated ``Insane Wind'' into English, said she believed the favorable American reviews for ``The Sorrows of War'' prompted the attack on the short story.

In a telephone interview, she described ``Insane Wind'' as an apolitical love story, focusing on a former northern soldier who is haunted by the memory of a prostitute shot and killed by other northern soldiers.

``She becomes a symbol of lost life,'' McPherson said. ``It's one of the msot beautiful love stories I've ever read.''

Ninh and other writers who were foot soldiers have been trying to break away from ideological restrictions to depict the human cost of the conflict _ lives lost and innocence squandered, followed by a peacetime marred by corruption and unemployment. But such works have generally been banned.

A recent congress of the official Writers' Association concluded that the ``heart of literature'' should beat in time with the Communist Party's heart, and that writers should praise the positive developments in society.