The Other Side of Heaven: Post-War Fiction by Vietnamese and American Writers


These stories represent the "second wave" of fiction—works about the aftermath of the Vietnam conflict as it moved into both countries, touching and forever changing not only the veterans, but also their families and their societies. Contributors include John Edgar Wideman, Larry Brown, Robert Olen Butler, Philip Caputo, Bobbie Ann Mason, Ngo Tu Lap, Tim O'Brien, and others.

These stories represent the "second wave" of fiction--works about the aftermath of the ...

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These stories represent the "second wave" of fiction—works about the aftermath of the Vietnam conflict as it moved into both countries, touching and forever changing not only the veterans, but also their families and their societies. Contributors include John Edgar Wideman, Larry Brown, Robert Olen Butler, Philip Caputo, Bobbie Ann Mason, Ngo Tu Lap, Tim O'Brien, and others.

These stories represent the "second wave" of fiction--works about the aftermath of the Vietnam conflict as it moved into both countries, touching and forever changing not only the veterans, but also their families and their societies. Contributors include John Edgar Wideman, Larry Brown, Robert Olen Butler, Philip Caputo, Bobbie Ann Mason, Ngo Tu Lap, Tim O'Brien, and others.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Just as the remaining trade sanctions against Vietnam are being lifted comes The Other Side of Heaven, a collection of short stories by American and Vietnamese writers about the Vietnam War or the ``American War,'' depending on who is speaking. ``This book was born out of the meeting of two people who, if they had met two decades previously,'' writes Karlin in his introduction, ``would have tried to kill each other.'' Stunning in both scope and content, this collection strips away the uniforms and propaganda to reveal the fearful, nave peoples of both sides engulfed in a war with consequences neither could imagine. Soldiers, villagers, spies, assassins, men, women, children and the dead speak their piece in stories grouped by varied facets of the war and its aftermath Hauntings, Exiles, Legacies, etc., with each entry original in its interpretation but interchangeable in the vividness of its pain and horror. Though many contributions are noteworthy, six are outstanding: Bao Ninh's ``Wandering Souls,'' Xuan Thieu's ``Please Don't Knock on the Door,'' Nguyen Quang Lap's ``The Sound of Harness Bells,'' David McLean's ``Marine Corps Issue,'' and Tim O'Brien's ``Speaking of Courage.'' The message of this monumental book is summed up in George Evans's ``A Walk in the Garden of Heaven,'' which runs through the book like a current, a piece of it opening each section: ``We've destroyed too much to be sentimental... Wars are always lost. Even if you win.'' Clearly, it is the fervent hope of the authors and editors united in The Other Side of Heaven that readers of all nationalities will understand. Oct.
Library Journal
This is a collection with a purpose beyond the literary: to bring together writing from both sides about the Vietnam War or the American War, as the Vietnamese call it in an effort to heal old wounds. The idea came out of meetings between American and Vietnamese writers and veterans at The William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Its Social Consequences at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. It's a good idea that, thankfully, has good results. No anthology like this should be without works from Tim O'Brien, Philip Caputo, Thom Jones, and Robert Stone on the American side, and they are all here. What's especially eye-opening for Americans, of course, are the many entries from Vietnamese writers, at turns clear-eyed, painful, and illuminating. Some readers may find wounds opening a bit as they read, but that is part of the healing process. Highly recommended.-Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
School Library Journal
YA-This collection of short stories was born out of the meeting of two people who, if they had met two decades previously, according to Karlin, "would have tried to kill each other." In an effort to heal wounds and bring about a resolution of emotions, the selections alternate between American and Vietnamese authors, showing powerfully effective juxtapositions. Some of the American voices, such as Robert Olen Butler, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Tim O'Brien, may be familiar to older teens, and readers will discover unusual and illuminating stories by Vietnamese writers. All of the entries are powerful. Mature YAs will find something to touch them in this thoughtful collection.-Susan R. Farber, Chappaqua Library, NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781880684313
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/1995
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 412
  • Sales rank: 1,233,177
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Wayne Karlin has been called by Tim O'Brien "one of the most gifted writers to emerge from the Vietnam War." He received an Excellence in the Arts Award from the Vietnam Veterans of America for his complete work in 2005. He lives in Maryland, where he teaches at the College of Southern Maryland.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

A Walk in the Garden of Heaven George Evans

A Letter to Vietnam for Huu Thinh, Le Minh Khue, and Nguyen Quang Thieu

They were talking when we entered the garden, two young people whisperingwith their hands, mist threads drifting from mountain tops on the raked gravelocean. Islands afloat on the skin of infinity. The mind without its body.

"The moment I saw your face," he said, "was like walking into the Hall of AThousand and One Bodhisattvas."

She had no idea what he meant, how it is to enter Sanjusangendo in Kyoto foreven the fiftieth time and see row upon row of a thousand standing figures,carved, painted, and gold-leafed with a calm but stunned look of enlightenment,five hundred on each side of a larger, seated figure of their kind, miniature headsknotted to their scalps representing the fragments of a time when their headsexploded in dismay at the evil in this world, the way our heads exploded in thewar, though we don't wear our histories where they can be seen.

Each statue has twenty pairs of arms to symbolize their actual 1,000 arms, theseenlightened ones who choose to remain on earth and not end the cycle of deathand rebirth some believe we go through until we get it right. They pause at theedge of nirvana to stay behind and help us all get through. It's easy to think theyare foolish instead of holy.

But each hand holds twenty-five worlds it saves, and because each figure canmultiply into thirty-three different figures, imagine the thirty-three thousandworlds they hold, how much distress there really is,then multiply that by athousand and one and think of what it's like to stand in an ancient woodentemple with all that sparkling comparison, even for those of us who believe inalmost nothing.

It is said, and it's true, that if you search the thousand faces, you will find theface of someone lost from your life.

But the young girl in the garden was bored and looked over her lover's shoulderat a twist of flowers. then so did he. The spell was broken.

We are older. There are so many wasted lives between us that only beauty makessense. Yet we are like them. We are. They are the way it is between our countries.One talking, one looking away. Both talking, both looking away.

The American Blues

Ward Just

This is not a story of the war, except insofar as everything in my unsettledmiddle age seems to wind back to it. I know how much you dislike readingabout it, all dissolution, failure, hackneyed ironies, and guilt, not to mentionthe facts themselves, regiments of them, armies. But I must risk being the boreat dinner for these few opening pages, for the life of the war is essential to thestory I have to tell. And that is not about the war at all but about the peace thatfollowed the war.

At the time the People's Army commenced its final murderous assault onSaigon I was living safely in a remote district of New England, far from theanarchy of battle and outside the circulation zones of serious newspapers. thiswas several years after my wife and I had quit the city for the country, havingdecided to go back to basics in the woods. We wanted a natural environment,clean air, safe schools, wood stoves, and a preindustrial economy. In our fervorto simplify, we went to the northern edge of the nation, thinking of it as thefrontier.

In fact, we were refugees from wartime Washington. Or perhaps the moreaccurate term is exiles, though no one forced us to leave. Our exile was voluntary:we abandoned Washington as good soldiers might desert a ravaging army. Webelieved that our home for many years had become diseased—poisoned withgreed, ambition, and bloodlust. My wife saw this before I did, and saw also thatwe had become part of it, accomplices—against our will, she insisted, though ofcourse as a journalist I had been a willing witness to the war's progress, drawnto it for no other reason than it was there, remaining because there seemed noother place to be. In Washington my wife and I feared for what we consideredour special closeness and appetite for each other. Sexual passion withered in theheat of such megalomania. My wife thought of the capital as some monstrouscontagion, hence our abrupt and bravura departure for the north country—fromthe vicious to the chaste, from the extraneous to the basic, from the heartof America to its margins. This was in 1973.

Without newspapers to read, I followed the end of the war on television,via a single network, because my house was so situated in the mountains that Icould receive only one channel. I watched the collapse on that one network, mycontinuity. And it was different from yours. I knew the theater of operations, itsgeography and ambience,a nd many of the American officials present at the endand most of the journalists. I knew its history as well as I knew my own, havingbeen there for two and half years, and indeed in some respects watching the waron television was like watching a home movie, a blurred 8mm film fromchildhood showing the house we no longer lived in and the father who wasdead, a tiresome experience unless you had been there and remembered: then itwas excruciating. this was a house in which some part of you would alwaysdwell and a father who would be on guard forever. You saw yourself skylarking,innocent, and unafraid, though entirely aware of the Kodak whirring away,seizing the moment. I wanted to call out and stop the film: Don't Do That! But itwould speed up, the images racing, faster and faster, and there was no stoppingit, then or later. Of course at the time the future was unrevealed: I could notforesee the consequences. Later, I would understand that it was predictable—evenby me, one who believed that history never repeated itself. What camelater was no surprise, including my own broken nerves and trepidation. Theshakes came much later, when images leached from my memory like shrapnelfrom flesh: so many human beings, multitudes. I had watched them, now theywatched me; turn, and turn about. In 1975 it was my own memory on film, andthis memory was crowded with fear and ardor, hot and bittersweet as an oldblues,

You told me that you loved me but you told me a lie.

There were diabolical memories, hard to communicated and even harder to share.Yet my feet beat perfect time to the music, everyone said so. The war, the war,the war, the war; for a while, we thought it would go on forever, a running story.And how fascinating that it was an American responsibility, supervised by ourbest minds. Surely somewhere there as consolation.

So I leaned forward toward the small screen, connected to the war by thenetwork, my looking glass. I was alert to the most obscure detail, often smiling,frequently near tears. It was all personal. I knew their facts, mannerism,a ndpersonal histories. A particular friend of mine was a senior diplomat in theAmerican embassy who was routinely interviewed in the last days my oldcolleague Nicholson. The interviews were near parodies of the decades-oldquarrel between officials and reporters. My friend was by then a very tired anddistracted official, and he gave Nicholson no satisfaction. Of course Nick waspolite and sympathetic, his bedside manner never more attractive than whentending a terminally ill patient. But my friend gave the least as good as he got, andhis truculence amid the ruins showed him to good advantage. On the smallscreen he was a formidable character.

Nicholson asked him, "What do you think, now that it's almost over?"

My friend was shrewdly silent, knowing that television cannot abide silence.He was careful not to move his eyes or dip his head or otherwise displayembarrassment or disarray.

Annoyed, Nicholson began again. "It's collapsing all along the line." Henamed the provincial that had fallen in the past twenty-four hours,even pretty little My Tho was under siege. "And now that its is, is there somethingwe could have done differently? Or should have or might have? Or perhaps therewas something we shouldn't've done at all?" NIcholson leaned over my friend'sgunmetal desk, holding the microphone delicately with his thumb and forefinger,as he might a flute of champagne. He scented blood.

My friend said, "Yes," not needing to add "you son of a bitch," because itwas plain in the tone of his voice. They had known and cordially dislike eachother for years.

Nicholson said, "Looking back on it—"

"Looking back on it is something we'll do for a very long time," my friendsaid. "It'll become an industry. There are so many of us who've been here."

"Yes," Nick said. the camera moved in tight on him. "And the lessons? Whatwill the lessons be?"

"In order to sleep soundly, Americans will believe anything. Do you knowwho said that?"

Nicholson, thrown on the defensive, shook his head.

"Stalin," my friend said.


"According to Shostakovich." Nick said nothing, wary now and alert todiplomatic nuance. But my friend only added mildly, "The composer. In hismemoirs, I think."

Nick pounced: "But what will they be, the lessons?"

The diplomat's voice was soft, almost hushed. "They will be whatever makesus think well of ourselves. So that our sleep will be untroubled. But it's too earlyto tell, isn't it? We must wait for the after-action reports. The conferences andsymposia. The publication of classified documents." I watched my friend thrustand parry, his face perfectly expressionless, though drawn. I though he wasgetting the better of it.

"You've been here as long as anyone," Nicholson said, smiling as if heintended a compliment. "And now you seem to be saying that the war's ended atlast." Nick wanted a confession and this was by way of reading the subject hisrights. He moved the microphone in the direction of the window and cockedhis head, smiling wanly. Boom boom. Gunfire, or what sounded like gunfire.

"It is lost, yes."

"That's not the same thing," Nicholson said.

"No," my friend agreed.

"Well!" Nicholson said, smiling again. I noticed that he had had his teethcapped. He looked fit, though tired. Probably it was only a hangover. "Surelyyou would not contend—"

"I am not contending anything," my friend said. "It's only a word. Pick theword you want. Your word isn't accurate, as a matter of fact. The war will notend when the americans leave. One part of the war will end but the war hasmore than one part. However, this it not our happiest or our proudest or ourmost honorable hour. If that is what you want me to say, I am saying it." Heopened his mouth as if to continue, then didn't. He probably figured he had saidtoo much. there was a moment of silence. Nicholson let it run, knowing nowthat the advantage was his. My friend said, "One can choose his own word. Thatword or some other word. It depends on where one sits."

Lame, I thought. dour, obscure, and unconvincing. But dead accurate.

"Right now," Nick said smoothly, "we're sitting in the American embassy,third floor." He smiled again and gestured at the American flag behind the bigdesk. It hung from a standard crowned with a fierce golden American eagle.There were framed documents on the walls, and a lithograph that I rememberedfrom other occasions. My friend took it with him wherever he went, one ofPicasso's melancholy musicians. The camera lingered on it.

"Exactly," my friend said. His voice was like flint, and now he moved togather some papers on his desk. He ignored the microphone Nick held onlyinches from the end of his nose. "At least you've got that exactly right, where weare now."

I remembered his tone of voice from another occasion, early in the war. Hehad taken me to lunch to explain a particularly subtle turn in American wardiplomacy. It was too subtle for me, I didn't get any of it, but I did not let on andlet him talk himself out, thinking that sooner or later I would pick it up,understand what it was he was trying to tell me, and then I would have a story.He wound down at last and looked at me with a frigid smile. Then he said, "It'sconvenient for you, isn't it? Being here, listening to me, waiting for a crumb ofinformation. Some fact, any fact at all will do, so long as it's fresh. Facts and fleshstink after a day in this heat. Isn't that right?" I protested. It was his lunch,undertaken at his invitation—Yes, he said wearily, that was true. Then he laughed,and when I asked him what was funny, he replied that his situation was toodroll; now he was conducting diplomacy through the newspapers, and they wereAmerican newspapers. He explained that he was trying to reach a certain circlein Washington, and he though he could do it through my newspaper, throughme. They never read the cables, and when they did they carped andcomplained....Too droll, he said again, ordering cognacs for us both; it wasn'tdiplomacy at all, it was public relations.

There was a brief fade to black and then the camera went in tight onNicholson. Now he was standing in the embassy driveway. He delivered a fewportentous sentences, a kind of fatigued now-you-see-it-now-you-don'tcommentary on the interview. Artillery crashed in the background. Then heidentified himself, "outside the American embassy on Thong Nhat Avenue,Saigon."

Nicholson had a reputation as television's most adroit interviewer, but thatwas the closest he came to cracking my friend. And he kept at it, night afternight. Their little sparring match would end Nick's report, until more violentevents in the streets made interviews superfluous, or perhaps they both tired ofthe charade. I admired my friend's tenacity but I was distressed at his appearance,his eyes tired and his hair graying and longer than I remembered it, his window'speak pronounced and causing him to look older than he was. His shaggy hairgave him an untidy appearance. Normally he was a fatidious man and a modeldiplomat, the son of one ambassador and the nephew of another, the grandsonof an army general and the great grandson of a secretary of the treasury. Oneway and another his family had been in government for a hundred years, andthis fact was never very far from my friend's thoughts, certainly not then, in thelast days of the war. Despite his ancestry, or because of it, he was the most"European" of the American officials I knew. His was a layered, mordantpersonality, the past and the present always in subtle play. He had married anddivorced a Parisian and was now married to an Italian woman, a Venetian whowas my wife's closest friend; my wife and the Venetian has studied historytogether. He had a special affection for his wife's family who had survived, bythe family palazzo on the Grand Canal—and how had they survived? Indolence,he said.

I pulled for the diplomat in his struggle with Nicholson, and not onlybecause of my friendship with him and my wife's with his languid Venetianlady. I wanted to see him come away with something. There was no equity in anagony where only the observers profited. The more bad news the better, thedeeper the quagmire the more the correspondents flourished. Connoisseurs ofbad news, Nicholson and I had been the most celebrated o the virtuosos, Nickwith his camera and deft interrogation and I with my pencil and notebook andclear sight. We were scrupulous in our search for delusion, error, and falsehood.We worked close to the fire, give us that; and we were entranced by its light,smitten, infatuated. And it was not a schoolboy's crush but a grand passion, acoup de foudre that often strikes men of a certain age. However, my mordantfriend was not smitten, and he distrusted romantic metaphors. He believedsimply that the United States had gotten itself into a war that it could not win. Itcould not win against the Vietnamese Communists any more than Bonapartecould win against the Russian winter. Americans had begun the war with anexcess of optimism, but what country did not? The Italians always had. Nowthere would be consequences and to avoid them would only make matters worse,perhaps a good deal worse. Of course he hated being a part of it, there had beenso many blunders and so many dead and so much waste. And unlike the Italians,we had tried so hard.

In front of the camera my friend was still and contained and vaguelycontemptuous. He approved of journalism in the abstract but dislike the kindof man who seemed attracted to it. Journalists seemed to him to be naiveutopians, and they were never worse than when covering wars. They routinelyviolated the physicist's great rule, "Everything should be made as simple aspossible, but not simpler." And Nicholson and I? We tried hard, too; no onecould fault our zeal. Our enthusiasm for the fall—its blood and dark rhythms,its delusion, the inexorability of the descent, the fulfillment of all the worstprophecies—was almost religious in its intensity, and at home our dispatcheswere followed with the devotion that Gypsies give tarots. Of course we wantedno wider war, Nicholson and I—though I was obsessed with my friend'sprediction, it seemed almost to be a curse: "Now there will be consequences andto avoid them would only make things worse, perhaps a good deal worse."

That was my own situation, appallingly real in the north country as I watchedmy friend on the small screen. He was a good man and an able diplomat and Ifelt sorry for him, distressed at his appearance and uncomfortable in his company,though we were twelve thousand miles apart; and of course disappointed thathe never looked the camera in the eye, though that may have been the strategyof the cameraman, who had been with Nicholson for many years. Nick was aprofessional, no more but no less either.

That last week of the war I watched television every day, beginning with themorning news and ending with wrap-up at eleven. Of course I was mostattentive in the evening, my own day done; and knowing that in the Zone it wasearly morning. Their day was just beginning. Each day was worse than the daybefore, and the suspense was in wondering how much worse. How bad could itget? My wife refused to watch with me, being opposed both to the war and totelevision news on principle. We had always been great newspaper readers. Inthe evenings my son, aged seven, agreed to keep me company. That last weekthere was combat footage from the countryside and film also of the variouslandmarks in the capital, the Street of Flowers, the old JUSPAO building, Aterbea'sRestaurant, the National Assembly, and the two white hotels, the Caravelle andthe Continental, all places I knew well from the previous decade.

Don't you want to see this? I called to my wife.

Not especially, she said from the kitchen.

Look, I said, there's Jessel. This was another old friend, a newspaperman. Ahand-held camera caught him standing in Lam Son Square at the corner of therue Catinat, making notes. He was wearing a sort of bush suit and a side arm ina holster and a steel helmet. He was thick around the middle.

I don't know him, she said.

I said, Sure you do, don't your remember? We met him and his wife, histhen-wife, in New York that time. That time we had so much fun in the bar atthe algonquin. She was very young. You like his wife, remember?

She said, Yes. It was at some bar. And they're divorced now. And I didn't likeher.

I said, I wish to hell they didn't wear those bush suits. They didn't wearthem in my day, at least the newspapermen didn't. And, Christ, he's packingheat. He thinks he's Ernest Hemingway, liberating the bar of the Caravelle. Excepthe's not going in, he's going out.

My son squirmed on the couch next to me.

I think it's a violation of the Geneva Convention, I continued. The rules arevery clear. Correspondents are not combatants, and they are not authorized tobear arms. And you have the rank of major, so if you're captured a fieldgradeofficer and entitled to respect—

Your dinner's ready, she said.

In a minute, I replied. I was watching Jessel, so tubby and complacent. Inthe old days Jessel had never worn bush suits. The war was not a safari. He hadnever carried a handgun, either.

I'll go ahead then, she said.

A rooftop shot from the Caravelle restaurant provoked a cascade ofreminiscence, much of it overwrought, perhaps bogus. This lunch, that dinner;who was present and what we ate and the details of the winelist, and the horrorstories, the changing estimate of the situtation, and the waiter whom we believedto be a VC agent. A glimpse of the adjoining building made me laugh out loud.It was the apartment window of the Indian money changer, the "mahatman"; thewindow was ablaze with light, and I imagined the transactions within, tortuousnow no doubt. I described the look of the flares over the Mekong, the riverbright as a carnival in the light of burning phosphorus, and the thump of artilleryon the opposite shore. I was being cheerful for the benefit of my wife, who hadconvinced herself that we had all had a fine time in South Vietnam.

I though again of Jessel. At that time he was living with a Vietnamese womanwith whom he had no common language. His American girlfriend, the youngwoman he later married, had gone home. The Vietnamese was a well-educatedwoman who spoke excellent French, but Jessel had no French, so theycommunicated by high sign and in pigeon.

Jessel, I said. A funny son of a bitch.

Then a radio jingle came back to me, a choir:

Don't you get a little lonely All by yourself Out on that limb? Without Him?

The last word was drawn out, in barbershop harmony, Himmmmmmm.Sponsored by the Army chaplain corps, it ran a dozen times a day on the ArmedForces Radio Network, inserted between the Supremes and Jimi Hendrix andexhortations to Stay Alert, Stay Alive. I sang the jingle to my son, who did notunderstand it. I remembered smiling every time I heard it. It was so—chaste.And the chaplains were so demoralized and broken up. They were from anotherworld altogether, and now, thinking about them and their jingle, I moved to theother end of the couch. Tears jumped to my eyes. My wife gathered up our sonand took him to bed. But I did not stop telling anecdotes, which were coming ina rush. I recited them out loud, to myself. An American official—a new man, Ididn't know him—appeared on screen and gave an account in a gruff voice. Helooked frightened, listening to explosions in the distance.

I waited for my friend the diplomat. I had come to depend on him. But hewas not interviewed that evening, nor was Nicholson anywhere in sight. Nickhad probably gone up-country. The news shifted to Washington, a correspondentstanding in the great circular driveway; in the background, figures moved onthe porch of the mansion. Of course, it was dusk in Washington. Thecorrespondent had information from confidential sources, non of whom wereprepared to appear on camera or permit the use of their names. But the situationin the Zone was...very grave, desperate, in fact, and they in the White Houseseemed courageously prepared for the inevitable. The reliable sources describedthe atmosphere as tense but calm. The correspondent leaned into the camera, Iknew him as a bon vivant; now he was selling gravity as he would sell soap orautomobiles. He despised his metier, but the camera was kind to him.

The news ended and another program replaced it. I refilled my glass butdid not move to turn off the set. I had arranged a drinks tray, so everything waswithin easy reach. I watched a game show, noisy with hysterical contestants anda frantic master of ceremonies. My time in the Zone came back to me in bitsand pieces—an exotic tapestry. It was with me part of every day in any event,but now, concentrating, I discovered forgotten material. The patterns changedaccording to the distance you were from it, one of Escher's devilish constructions.It was like reading a well loved novel years later and finding fresh turns of plotand character to admire. I remembered a friend saying once that if you werelucky enough to discover Trollope in middle age you'd never do without, becauseyou could never live long enough to read all he wrote. I felt that way about thewar, so remarkably dense an experience, with such treasure still buried. MyTrollope war, so rich with incident and the friendships were forever. The diplomatand I had many escapades.

Upstairs, I heard my wife reading to our son.

Come on down! I shouted.

The door opened. What do you want? my wife asked.

I want to tell you about the war! On television, the master of ceremoniesgestured grandly at the balcony and yelled, Come on down!

She said something I didn't hear and closed the door.

I didn't notice. I was too drunk to notice. I had been drunk for a month,since well before the final offensive of the People's Army and the collapse of theFree World Forces. So the offensive was not a cause of my drinking, or an excuseor justification for it. But it was not reason to stop, either.

The year 1975 was turbulent and even now I have difficulty sorting it out. Publicaffairs seemed to loom over us, darkening the prospect. Of course Nixon wasalready gone. Ford was soon to go. Each day brought weird revelations. Theattorney general went to jail. The disgraced vice-president was frequentlyphotographed at Las Vegas and was said to be making a killing as a corporateconsultant, import-export. There was a picture in the newspaper of him shakinghands with Joe Louis, his fingers on the Brown Bomber's should as if theywere friends. The vice-president's tan was so deep, he could have been thechampion's brother; he was smiling, obviously enjoying himself in Vegas. Joewore a plastic golf cap, looking old and ruined. I went on the wagon for a month.

There were changes in the north country as well. A Venezuelan bought thedairy farm down the road from my house, the purchase conducted throughnominees. An article in a business paper asserted that for the rich in nations ofsocial and political unrest, New England farmland was a desirable asKrugerrands or Old Masters. The Venezuelan was followed by an industrialistfrom Peru, who bought a horse farm. The columnist in the local papercomplained that the lingua franca in the valley would soon be Spanish. He tookto describing our selectmen as "the junta" and predicting revolution. Then heannounced that he himself was emigrating to Maine, at least the Abenaki spokeEnglish and were indisputably North American. My wife and I briefly discussedputting out house on the market, then thought better of it; we were in the northcountry to stay, she said. There were other confusing portents. A large New Yorkbank failed and nearly brought down the valley bank with it. The chairmanexplained at a party one night that his bank had gone heavily into Eurodollarson the expert advice of the president of the New York bank, a close personalfriend who owned a condominium in the ski area nearby. The presidentfacilitated these purchases, one banker lending his expertise to another. Thatwas the reason there was no mortgage money in the valley: it was all in Europeand disappearing fast.

The news from Indochina after the fall of Saigon was fragmentary, andweeks would pass with no reports on the evening news. No news was not goodnews. I though of it as a dark and threatening silence, as unpropitious in itsway as the deep restless fastness of the woods surrounding my house. When,later, the Chinese invaded north Vietnam the dominoes trembled, but held; sofathead Dulles had been at once right and wrong about the course of events inSoutheast Asia.

I was writing a history of the war. I completed the book in good time, allbut the final chapter. For my description of the end of the war I was obliged todepend on the recollections of others. I decided to write a simple reconstructionof the final battle. Six times I went to Washington to interview civilians fromthe State Department and CIA and the Pentagon, and military officerseverywhere in the city. Many were friends from the previous decade and weregenerous with their time; we knew many of the same stories. I obtained classifieddocuments, but these did not clarify the situation; they were secret but no veryinteresting, and often false or misleading. Facts piled up, but I could not fitthem together in any plausible way. What had seemed so clear in front of thetelevision set now seemed erratic and unfocused, drunken events reeling fromday to day with no logic or plan. And what was the consequence, other than theobvious thing? I was unable to interview my friend the diplomat, who had beenposted to another, very remote embassy; there was a rumor he was on the outswith the Department. We corresponded for a time but his letters wereperfunctory, and he declined to volunteer any fresh facts or fresh interpretationsof the known facts. I was disappointed but not surprised. He had always been avery discreet official.

I knew that a simple reconstruction of the final battle was not enough.Through friends who had been active in the antiwar movement I applied for avisa to Vietnam, but was put off; perhaps later, when the situation stabilized.No one was getting in then.

I told my wife, I can't end this book.

You have got to let it go, she said.

The book? I asked incredulously. She couldn't know what she was asking.

The war, she said furiously.


By Wayne Karlin

Curbstone Press

Copyright © 1996 Wayne Karlin.All rights reserved.

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Table of Contents

The American Blues 5
Wandering Souls 15
Nada 25
Fragment of a Man 33
A Soldier's Burial 51
Two Village Women 65
The Honored Dead 73
The House Behind the Temple of Literature 85
Helping 95
The Rucksack 118
The Pugilist At Rest 122
Please Don't Knock on My Door 137
Speaking of Courage 155
The Man Who Stained His Soul 166
Dressed Like Summer Leaves 172
The Slope of Life 182
Waiting For Dark 189
Waiting for a Friend 201
Paco's Dreams 204
Tony D 210
The Billion Dollar Skeleton 223
The Autobiography of a Useless Person 235
Coming Down Again 245
The Key 252
The Walls, the House, the Sky 258
Twilight 266
Rashad 279
The Sound of Harness Bells 287
Point Lookout 294
Humping the Boonies 300
Letters from My Father 308
Above the Woman's House 313
She in a Dance of Frenzy 322
Marine Corps Issue 327
Mother and Daughter 340
Heat 353
The General Retires 379
Epilogue 401
Contributors/Translators 404
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