A woman remembers the two years that she lived in Saigon during the Vietnam War and her husband’s death there.
Debut author Merkel Boruff had been married to Jon Christian “Merk” Merkel for less than a year when, in 1968, he was offered a contract as a pilot for Air America, a private airline secretly run by the U.S. government. Originally, he was supposed to be stationed in a small town in northern Thailand, but his orders were changed to Vietnam. Merkel Boruff was terrified at the prospect of relocating to a war zone, but her husband assured her it was safe and largely insulated from the chaos of the region. Nevertheless, the acclimation was slow and painful; she found Saigon’s unfamiliar culture and languages, as well as its unabashed eroticism, dizzying. She also never got used to the sound of exploding mortars. Former Air Force officer Merk was an experienced pilot and adjusted quickly; he lovingly reassured her but was also frequently absent, running missions that the author knew little about. The pay was good, if not commensurate with the danger, and the couple hoped to save up enough to buy a home and start a family. Merkel Boruff made friends and found a job teaching English at the American school. But when Merk was shot down, her worst fears were suddenly realized, and her world collapsed. The author captures this heartache in beautifully sorrowful prose: “I was wrapped in a chrysalis, a world of dreams. Memories. I was a hundred years old.” Throughout the memoir, Merkel Boruff’s recollections are captivating, and they provide an unusual portal not only into the Vietnam War, but also into how PTSD affected those who experienced the event but didn’t serve in the military. Her account is both candidly confessional and literary in tone, drawing wisdom from the likes of William Faulkner and James Joyce as well as from the teachings of Buddhism. (The title, she notes, is an acronym for “zone of silence.”) Overall, this is a fresh contribution to the literature on Vietnam, written from a unique perspective.
A touching and thoughtful meditation on war and personal tragedy.