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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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