Adversaries in the Korean War find love in Aerie’s debut novel.
The story starts in the middle of a firefight, with “bullets and shells shrieking,” bombs “flinging metal shrapnel around and throughout the air,” and “wave after wave of Chinese soldiers in dry-leaf-colored uniforms” overrunning American lines. Although the scene is a touch overwritten, it does create a sulfurous, desperate atmosphere; anywhere would be better than here, in this vicious, geopolitically drenched bloodbath conducted by puppet masters from afar. Out of the rubble, two characters emerge: an American officer, Wesley Palm, and a Chinese military doctor, Jasmine Young. Their paths cross again and again, as each, at different times, becomes a prisoner of war, with the other lending a helping hand when most needed. In the intimacy of the war, these coincidences don’t feel forced, nor even particularly fated—it’s just the way things went; without such fortuity, Aerie suggests, nobody would have gotten out of there alive. Readers will likely find Palm a decent, very human person, but Young has more complexity and vibrancy, with Aerie providing a wealth of information about her pampered youth, the disintegration of her family, her failed attempt at fleeing the revolution, the reasons why she volunteered, and how she got in hot water with her officers. As the war rages around them, Palm and Young fall in love (they “imbibed and floated in the wine of joy,” she writes), but their romance is ill-starred and open to tragedy. Aerie keeps readers on their toes with the twists that are all too common during wartime, and balances her relatively weak portrayal of Communist hacks with fleeting but intense moments of camaraderie between grunts, male and female, in the cold rain and snow.
An often engaging tale of a flickering moment of love during a forgotten war.