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THE BROKEN COUNTRY

ON TRAUMA, A CRIME, AND THE CONTINUING LEGACY OF VIETNAM

A poignant, relevant synthesis of cultural studies and true-crime drama.

A compact, thoughtful debut addressing violence, immigrant identity, and the long shadow of the Vietnam War.

Rekdal (English/Univ. of Utah), who received the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction, begins with a vicious attack in Salt Lake City by a homeless Vietnamese refugee, Kiet Thanh Ly, who stabbed random white men while shouting “You killed my people!” The author argues that the perpetrator represents a broader “disturbed appropriation of the war and its aftershocks.” “When I read about Ly’s case,” writes Rekdal, “some part of me saw his crime as a brutal way to counteract that invisibility, to kill the ideal that he could never achieve.” From there, she blends aspects of personal narrative with a consideration of the nature of survival, as experienced both by often traumatized refugees and by Ly’s victims, as well as a social history of how the Vietnamese re-established their own identities after trauma, both in Vietnam and in America, where nearly 1 million arrived in the postwar years. “To outsiders,” she writes, “the Vietnamese who resettled in the United States look like a success story continually in the making.” Yet, Rekdal argues that disturbing stories like that of Ly or the perpetrators of a grisly 1991 appliance-store massacre demonstrate that refugee trauma can be passed along biologically, as hypothesized about descendants of Holocaust survivors. The author effectively uses interviews with various people in constructing this discussion, including Ly’s victims and other refugees who knew Ly before the attack. One noted that the community’s difficult experiences “came not from war or relocation, but from the long and sometimes failed process of assimilation.” Her writing about Vietnam (where she traveled) as a newly evolved environment and her family’s experience with identity in the face of war (an uncle won a Bronze Star in Vietnam) all feels authentic and effective, although her discussion of the violent flashpoint at the book’s center could use a clearer interpretive focus.

A poignant, relevant synthesis of cultural studies and true-crime drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8203-5117-9

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: July 11, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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