In David Bergen's moody, thoughtful novel, Charles Boatman, a Vietnam War vet, returns to Vietnam 30 years after the war to try to come to terms with his accidental killing of a young boy in a village. After about a month in Vietnam, he disappears. Two of his grown children, Ada and Jon, who live in B.C., come to Danang to search for him but Charles does not want to be found. While there, Ada falls in love with Vu, an older, well-known Vietnamese artist. Meanwhile, Jon leaps into the expatriate gay scene. In essence, this is the story of a father and a daughter (the mother has died) and their attempt to understand the depth and meaning of their similarities and differences.
The character of Charles seems slightly incongruous. He is a redneck, who maintains a bunker with guns and gas masks under his rural house, and yet sometimes seems too refined: "Whenever nightmares woke him, Charles ... played music, sometimes classical, sometimes opera." There is a profound aimlessness to the novel, some of it no doubt intended, but eventually it stalls the momentum of the story. While in the city of Danang, Charles seems to be waiting for something to come that doesn't come from waiting. Throughout there is an inordinate amount of staring out of windows and recounting of dreams. The highpoints of this book are several chapters taken from an imagined Vietnamese novel written by a veteran and deserter of the North as he makes his way home across a war-torn landscape--in these the power of storytelling comes fully alive. These chapters are so riveting that the novel is worth reading for them alone. --Mark Frutkin
From Publishers Weekly
Asking Ellen DeGeneres–sound-alike Anna Fields to narrate this haunting novel of a veteran who goes missing while revisiting Vietnam to make peace with the atrocities he witnessed and committed doesn't initially sound like an inspired idea. However, Fields's narration of this Scotia Bank Giller Prize–winning book (Canada's highest book award) really works. With more than 200 audiobooks to her credit, Fields (aka Kate Fleming, and an Audie Award winner) has a master's touch, and her restrained delivery melds perfectly with Bergen's spare and Hemingwayesque text. Her deadpan delivery works for the narrator's voice as well as it does for Ada Boatman, who travels to Vietnam to find her veteran father, Charles. Fields's only weak note is the voice she uses for the taciturn Charles. As the book shifts between Ada's and Charles's points of view, Field's expertise becomes apparent, especially in her meticulous attention to detail, such as the correct pronunciation of the copious Vietnamese phrases and places in this tale. Simultaneous release with the Random House hardcover (Reviews, Oct. 31). (Dec.)
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