Essentially a critical study, Nguyen’s work is a powerful reflection on how we choose to remember and forget.

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A scholarly exploration of memory and the Vietnam War from an author “born in Vietnam but made in America.”

While Nguyen (English and American Studies & Ethnicity/Univ. of Southern California; The Sympathizer, 2015, etc.) focuses on the Vietnam War, the war that most intimately affected his Vietnamese family, his fine reflections on how to treat and preserve the memory of war “justly” extends to other neighboring wars such as those in Cambodia, Laos, Korea, the Philippines, and elsewhere. The “ethics of remembering” is complicated, as the author explains while walking readers through specific parts of Vietnam, because it involves not just grieving one’s nearest and dearest—e.g., visiting cemeteries of fallen family members—but feeling compassion for others, as the moving, reflective black wall of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., elicits beautifully. Nguyen stresses the importance of recognizing that we are not only the victims of horrible tragedy, but also the perpetrators: “Reminding ourselves that being human also means being inhuman is important simply because it is so easy to forget our inhumanity or to displace it onto other humans.” The author also explores the “memory industries,” such as Hollywood movies that cater to “young men’s erotic fascination with pure sex and war movies.” He looks at many examples of war memorials in Vietnam and Korea that attempt to bring the memory into the present, while books, especially novels by Vietnamese-Americans, convey senses of affirmation and redemption and allow the ghosts, literally, to speak. Grasping our essential inhumanity through art (a “true war story”), Nguyen affirms, is one way to resist the “memory industry,” the ultimate goal of which is to “reproduce power and inequality.” Finally, there is the role of “just” forgetting, which allows people to go on and live as well as to forgive.

Essentially a critical study, Nguyen’s work is a powerful reflection on how we choose to remember and forget.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-674-66034-2

Page Count: 364

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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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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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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