From acclaimed poet Weigl (After the Others, 1999), a deliberately turned and finely envisioned memoir, alternately
harrowing and hopeful but consistently contemplative.
In 1967 Weigl fled his decaying mill-town upbringing and rough Slavic family roots for a year’s tour of duty in Vietnam.
The experience of the war and its horrors permanently cauterized his life into an irreconcilable "Before and After." Racked by
survivor’s guilt and unmoored by his education in fragility and risk, Weigl escaped into drug use and promiscuity back home,
only to be saved by marriage and his developing literary career. Though Weigl narrates his unorthodox life’s path vividly, his
story is more deeply concerned with graver and more evanescent matters: his keenly nuanced portrait of a hardscrabble yet
resonant childhood darkened by sexual abuse (at the hands of a teenage baby-sitter) is balanced both by his attempts to
comprehend his horrific war experiences and by his efforts, years later, to return to Vietnam and immerse himself in its peacetime
culture. Initially Weigl works with Vietnamese poets, translating their work; later he tries to adopt an eight-year-old Vietnamese
orphan named Hanh. This last transformative experience composes Weigl’s primary narrative, and it is a hair-raising tale in its
own right, for when Weigl arrives in Vietnam for the adoption, he comes bearing a visa with the issue dates reversed—thus
putting him in violation of Vietnamese customs and jeopardizing the legality of the adoption. This adds an air of suspense, even
when Weigl detours into his sharply unsettling recollections of his past as wrenched through the crucible of war. Ultimately, fate
intervenes, as Weigl’s respected literary friends in Vietnam secure him a new visa and the adoption goes ahead.
Weigl’s integrity and experience have produced a moving, singular, and highly readable story—while his supple prose
maintains the precise, stark imagery, crisp meter, and mordant understandings of his poetry.