VIETNAMERICA

THE WAR COMES HOME

A sympathetic, anecdotal look at the sad stories of a dozen or so Amerasian children of the Vietnam war, by a writer who feels the need to include himself in his narrative. The tens of thousands of children born to American servicemen and Vietnamese women during the war in Vietnam are a tragic legacy of that conflict. The children—known in Vietnam as bui doi, ``the dust of life''—face vicious political and social discrimination in the land of their birth. The situation is not much better for many of the 20,000 Amerasians who have emigrated to this country in the last decade and have found it extremely difficult to meld into American society. Only a tiny fraction of them have bee reunited with their fathers. ``Rejected by their Vietnamese motherland, they feel equally unwelcome in the land of their fathers,'' Bass (Camping with the Prince, 1990) notes. He made two trips to Vietnam, in 1991 and 1992, and spent some time at Amerasian refugee center in Utica, N.Y., to tell the stories of about a dozen Amerasians, most of whom emigrated to this country. In writing these compelling stories, Bass relies on information from his subjects—information, he admits, that is often unreliable: ``Many of the stories in this book may be untrue.'' Even more disconcerting are Bass's breezily written background sections, which are sketchy at best, largely undocumented, and marred by several errors (one example: 2.8 million Americans served in Vietnam, not 9 million, as Bass writes). Worse, the author injects himself into his story, with travelogue details about his adventures in Vietnam and accounts of his interactions with Amerasians and advocates for the refugees. In one grievous example, Bass describes his one-man campaign to help some Amerasians in Vietnam, noting this his hastily arranged actions backfired and may have gotten at least one young woman ``in trouble'' with the Vietnamese authorities. The Amerasian story deserves to be told in a better- researched, less personalized manner.

Pub Date: April 30, 1996

ISBN: 1-56947-050-2

Page Count: 348

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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