Books by Wayne Karlin

Wayne Karlin has been called by Tim O'Brien "one of the most gifted writers to emerge from the Vietnam War. He has written four previous novels: Crossover, Lost Armies, The Extras and US. Karlin co-edited the first anthology of Viet Nam war veteran fictio

Released: Oct. 1, 2009

"Despite the reconciliation, the book is a poignant reminder of the war's sad consequences for both sides."
A surprisingly moving account of a Vietnam War veteran who returned to face the family of the man he killed. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 2005

"Karlin works on a small scale, bringing all the senses into play as he describes acts both of turpitude and decency in this memoir of a country's consciousness."
Personal encounters with Vietnam, past and present, in a web of prickly memory. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 2002

"A nice portrait of an interesting (and underappreciated) time and place."
An elegant and thoughtful historical set in 17th-century Maryland. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 2000

An intense, accusatory 1999 tale—the latest entry in Curbstone's estimable Voices from Viet Nam series—tells of Khiem, a distinguished writer and editor whose unsparingly honest new novel brings down a hailstorm of opprobrium and abuse that makes him an outcast and severely afflicts both Khiem's mistress Hoan (a beautifully realized character) and his termagant (and flagrantly unfaithful) wife. Based in part on a 19th-century Vietnamese epic poem, this harsh tale of conflicting loyalties and officially sanctioned injustice does occasionally descend to preachiness, but the vividness of its characters (especially Hoan) and their sufferings preserves its inherent credibility and drama. Read full book review >
PRISONERS by Wayne Karlin
Released: Sept. 1, 1998

Like earlier fiction from this ex-Marine and helicopter gunner (Us, 1993, etc.), a complex tale based heavily on Vietnam memories seen through a glass darkly, or pieced together like fragments of bone. In this case, where to begin? The first setting is a Chesapeake Bay hospital ER where obstetrics nurse Mary helps out caring for children who were shot up in a Hardee's restaurant massacre—amid a bloodiness that reminds Mary of her husband Brian's work with a medivac unit picking up wounded in Vietnam. The location then shifts to the nearby site of a Civil War Union prison camp, where Brian is busy sifting a mass grave for bones of the Confederate dead. At a costume reenactment by the Maryland Historical Society, we meet nightmare-ridden teenager Kiet, from Ruth's House for Disturbed Adolescent Females, who calls herself VCWA, or —Viet Cong With an Attitude—; molested by widower Hiram Johns, Kiet runs off in search of her ghost-soul and her true father, who is black. Now looking for Kiet herself are white sheriff Alex Hallam and his family-obsessed distant cousin, the African-American deputy Russell Hallam. This social and professional crossover of the races, part of the "seepage of history," can be noted also in the crimes of Union soldiers against the Confederates, in the aforementioned siege in the restaurant, in Brian's Vietnam gunnery, in a hidden trench uncovered by his Labrador retriever, in a visit by an Israeli cousin who may have been killing Palestinians, and so on and on, in an extensive layering of crimes upon crimes over the course of decades. And, as always, the present has to pay a high cost for exhuming the past. A demanding, forbiddingly dense, often beautiful vision takes shape here, with pictures only half-glimpsed as the pages go by. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1996

A deeply emotional, intellectual, and literary examination of the Holocaust, framed through one man's journey to a small Polish town in which 2,000 Jews were executed by the Germans in 1941. Novelist Karlin (Lost Armies, not reviewed, etc.) took ``a self-imposed journey into the blurred space between memory, story and reality'' in the summer of 1993. The occasion was Karlin's visit to Kolno, a Polish town where his mother had lived before emigrating to this country—and the later scene of what Karlin aptly describes as ``a small, almost casual `action,' a tiny thread in the tapestry of murder.'' Karlin uses this journey as a literary jumping-off point to chronicle his mother's life and times, his own experience as a Marine in Vietnam, and his postwar emotional upheavals. Jumping back and forth in time, Karlin also weaves into this narrative a meditation on the literature of the Vietnam War as it's been practiced by veterans of that conflict—both American and Vietnamese—and an examination of the American massacre of Vietnamese civilians at My Lai. The ``rumors'' of the title refers to Karlin's mother's family stories, which, he says, ``grew from the real world'' but also ``were like dreams or rumors, their codes locked in her own references and memories, more riddles than guides.'' Karlin retells those stories and then fashions them into dreamlike fictional tales that he inserts among the book's more orderly and essaylike narrative chapters. There are several references to ``stones,'' including those customarily placed atop gravestones by Jews and the ground-up gravestones used by the Germans to pave the roads at the Treblinka death camp. The literary ``rumors'' chapters are sometimes slightly disconcerting, but they are as powerfully evoked and as emotionally penetrating as are the reportorial sections. A deft melding of disparate narratives, forming a unique and valuable addition to the literature of the Holocaust. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 15, 1995

A superb collection by American and Vietnamese veterans of the Vietnam Warwhat they called the American War: 39 stories that deal with survivalwartime and every day thereafter, when one must survive not merely bullets and mines, but depression, alcoholism, failed marriages, and continual fear. Karlin, a novelist (Us, 1993, etc.) and coeditor of a 1973 collection of fiction by Vietnam veterans, Free Fire Zone, writes that ``the best way to read the anthology is straight through, as you would a novel.'' As such, the narrative alternates between the American point of view, in reprinted pieces by Thom Jones, Tim O'Brien, and others, and the Vietnamese side, in stories by well-known Vietnamese authors, many of whom appear for the first time in English translation. In the end, both sides of the tragedy are admirably conveyed. ``There was a time we would have killed each other,'' writes George Evans in a prose poem woven throughout the volume. Now, writing together, former enemies begin to heal old wounds. Read full book review >
US by Wayne Karlin
Released: Feb. 3, 1993

Karlin's fourth novel (The Extras; Lost Armies, etc.), set in Thailand and Burma, is part MIA adventure, part opium-lord showdown. Despite some effective use of hallucination imagery, it's also contrived and cluttered—as though Karlin felt the necessity to include every clichÇ from Vietnam and its aftermath. Loman is a veteran who ``never had to kill anyone'' during the war. Now, he runs a bar in Bangkok, where his buddies have names like ``Fat Al,'' ``Chuckie's-in-Love,'' and ``Helicopter Harry,'' and where his instinct is to protect his girls from groping German tourists. ``Being a daddy is bad for business,'' his partner Jimmy Change tells him. ``Girls just want to have fun.'' Loman, that is, was ``a good and fair pimp.'' Once we've been treated to such local color and slice-of-life, the action begins. Congressman Mundy, who likes to think of himself as ``the vet's best friend,'' shows up on an ``unofficial'' fact-finding mission concerning MIAs; he's being guided by Weyland, who is, of course (as we discover down the line), using Mundy as a puppet. Next thing we know, Loman is on a plane for Burma, where he's supposed to meet Aung Khin, an opium trade lord. After bits of tough-guy talk, Loman and the filmmakers are pulled from an Econoline van in the mountains into the heart of darkness. You name it, Karlin includes it: cross-dressing, stories within stories, BVDs strewn on mountain paths, kidnappings and deaths. First, Mundy is blown away because he's supercilious, then Weyland buys it. Loman is finally rescued, debriefed, and told that anything he chooses to reveal is ``unofficial and deniable.'' He gets a one-way ticket home. Mercifully, the story fades to black. Karlin layers the novel with mythological Vietnamese riffs, but most readers will be too weary—after battling superficial characterizations and one plot contrivance after another—to care much one way or the other. Read full book review >