Alphabet of Vietnam
Review by Nancy
In this oddly thought out book, Jonathan Chamberlain tells us many stories. There are brothers Joe and Jack; Joe’s friend Wash; several women who die sadly; a Vietnamese poetess named Ho Xoan Houng who wrote beautiful poems for us; Maddie, Benjy and Alice.
Joe dies purposefully. He did it himself. Dove under a train. It usually works well and did this time, too. Jack is delivered a set of notes that completely changes his hum-drum existence. “Go find Maddie and my baby and get them away from Wash before they die.” Pretty straight forward.
Well, Jack found Wash, Maddie and barely more than a zygote Benjy in the hills of the Eastern Mountains. Maddie was a slave to Wash and to Joe. She wanted to escape and it was up to Jack to make that happen. However – it didn’t quite work that way. Jack wants to learn what Vietnam did to his brother but doesn’t particularly want to know what Joe did in Vietnam. He learns anyhow.
He travels there – sees what Joe saw and thinks on that. He drank bad beer, crawled in caves and learned lessons of poverty and pain. He learned what Joe forgot.
There are people I know who absolutely should not read this book. The people we loved and saw return home changed are among them. Then there are us – the ones who stayed. We need to read this book. We may not want to, but we need to.