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“[Bergen] preserves the exquisiteness of the Vietnamese culture, lending a unique beauty to the story. Highly recommended.”
“Bergen’s best writing evokes the absence of what has been lost and, even more terribly, what is not there to be found.”
-Globe and Mail
“With his thoughtful dialogue, Bergen makes the characters’ heartache seep off the page.”
“David Bergen is a master of taut, spare prose that’s both erotic and hypnotic. Set mostly in modern-day Viet Nam, The Time In-Between is a deeply moving meditation on love and loss, truth and its elusiveness, and a compelling portrait of a haunted man, Charles Boatman, and his daughter who seeks to solve the mystery of his disappearance.”
–Miriam Toews, author of A Complicated Kindness
“David Bergen’s The Time In-Between is about how children inherit their parents’ ghosts and the elusive nature of grace. It also makes a stunning connection between the wars that are fought out in the world, and the ones that cleave families in private. Ravishingly told and deeply felt, it’s a huge accomplishment.”
–Michael Redhill, author of Martin Sloane
“The Time In-Between is a spare, suspenseful meditation on the long reach of war – to the places where it is fought, the people who fight it, and the people who love those people. In portraying the lingering devastation left in one soldier’s life by a war he fought a generation ago, Bergen’s novel could not be timelier or more chilling.”
–Jennifer Egan, author of Look at Me
“In this elegant novel, David Bergen weaves a precise and resonant prose through the connected histories of people touched by love, death and war. A lovely, sad, and ultimately redeeming work of fiction.”
–Brady Udall, The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint
“Intelligent, humane, deep in its sympathetic understanding, David Bergen’s novel explores the haunted life of the Boatman family in the late aftermath of the Vietnam War. There is in this novel not a single sentimental or euphemistic line; and because the writing is honest, the characters are real, and their struggle as a family has the ring of truth.”
–Donald Pfarrer, The Fearless Man: a Novel of Vietnam
From the Hardcover edition.
1. David Bergen’s writing style is distinctive — so plain as to seem “styleless,” yet capable of great eloquence. Choose some sentences or paragraphs that strike you as particularly successful, and analyze what gives them their power.
2. On the surface, this could be described as a sad book. Yet the main characters — Charles, Ada, and Jon — make emotional or spiritual journeys during the course of the novel, in addition to geographical ones. Describe the inner journeys of these characters. In what ways are they ultimately redemptive?
3. The Bible talks about the sins of the father being visited on his children. Jon tells his sister Ada, “His [Charles’s] love for you is like a weight that you have to carry” [p. 67]. In what ways does Charles’s “sin” as well as his love weigh on, or otherwise affect, his children? Describe the different ways Ada, Jon, and their sister, Dell, deal with their father and his love.
4. Discuss the various possible meanings of the title, The Time in Between.
5. Tomas Manik and Hoang Vu are visual artists; Vu is also a writer, as is the elusive Dang Tho. Each has a different status in society. Consider these differences and discuss what Bergen is saying about the Artist and how he is regarded in Vietnam, as opposed to in North America or in Europe. Discuss in what ways being an artist has shaped Vu’s and Dang Tho’s lives.
6. David Bergen writes that Ada Boatman has been “given some sort of gift” from Vu, her Vietnamese lover. Discuss Ada and Vu’s relationship. What do you think the gift was?
7. The Boatmans are an American/Canadian family temporarily in Vietnam; the Goudses are Americans planning a longer stay. How do these characters try (or not try) to understand something of Vietnam? What assumptions do they arrive with? What, if anything, does Vietnam teach them? At one point, as she leaves Vu and returns to Danang, Ada becomes “aware that a window had been flung open onto a view of an alien and foreign place, and then, just as suddenly, it had closed” [p. 232]. What brings Ada to that moment, and do you think the author is making a general point about Westerners in foreign cultures?
8. David Bergen says he doesn’t see his book as a war novel. But how would you describe the book’s relationship to war? Are Charles’s experiences universal wartime ones? Could they have taken place equally plausibly in, for example, World War I or II, or the American Civil War? Or is there something about his killing of the boy, particularly, that seems specific to this war?
9. The Vietnamese veterans of the war, as well as the civilians, deal with their memories of the war quite differently than the Americans do. How would you characterize these differences, giving instances from as many characters on both sides as you can?
10. The Time in Between is concerned with conflict on two vastly different levels — the Vietnam War and the struggles within the Boatman family between spouses, between parents and children, and between siblings. Discuss these conflicts. Does Bergen suggest any connection between the public and private struggles in the novel?
11. Charles Boatman carries a terrible secret for years, but he’s not the only person in the novel with a secret. The Boatman family has its share, some of which have been revealed before the trip to Vietnam, some of which come to light later. So, too, do Elaine and Jack Gouds. Discuss these various secrets, and their connections to the book’s themes.
12. Structurally, The Time in Between is unusual in that the body of Charles Boatman is found about one hundred pages before the end of the book. The “quest” in the novel, in that sense, ends early. Or does it? What significant things happen after the discovery of the body — and can only happen, as a matter of fact, once Charles’s fate is known?
13. The most prominent of the five senses in this novel is that of smell. How does Bergen use the sense of smell in the story, and why does it seem so important?
14. There are two blind characters in this book — the blind soldier befriended by Kiet in the Vietnamese novel Charles reads, and the blind American veteran Ada meets in a cafe. When Charles’s body is found, fish have eaten his eyes. What is the significance of blindness in The Time in Between?
15. Charles tells his children stories while they sit in the bunker he builds, and Ada believes that “each successive story was like a piece of thread, and she was collecting those pieces” [p. 39]. Stories play a crucial role in this novel: the various versions Charles tells about his war experiences; the story that Kiet tells to save his life in the Vietnamese novel-within-a-novel (another story in itself); the life stories that characters do and don’t want to tell or hear. What is the author saying about the role of stories in our lives, and in the lives of the book’s characters?
16. When Ada disbelieves Elaine Gouds’s description of her relationship with Charles, “She saw that sex could leap out of nowhere and obscure a person, make them stupid” [p.191]. Who else does this happen to in the novel? How do various characters in the novel approach sexuality?
17. “Safe” is an important word and concept in The Time in Between. Characters promise to watch over each other and their belongings. Charles builds a bunker to keep his children safe. Having read Bergen’s novel, what kinds of safety do you think he believes are possible?
18. “Nothing better for trust than hunting,” Charles says, as he invites Tomas to go hunting with him [p. 98]. In the novel, there are several acts of violence against animals. How do they connect with the main story and its themes?
19. The young Vietnamese boy, Yen, tells Ada that “everybody wanted something that they couldn’t have” [p. 9]. What are the characters’ impossible wishes? Are the things that Yen tells Ada, or shows her, about herself?