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Lost in Vietnam
By Minnie Warburton (reviewer)
Lost in Vietnam: AWOL in Southeast Asia
by Larry Craig
(Independently published, 2019)
Lost in Vietnam: AWOL in Southeast Asia by Larry Craig is both novel and memoir, a personal narrative that can serve veterans, not just of the war in Vietnam, but of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well. From the disillusion one feels "in country" to the confusion and disorientation once home that can cause addictive, inappropriate and self-destructive behaviors. I personally feel every account by a survivor of the war in Vietnam, American or Vietnamese, has a place and ought to be read. Nevertheless, at times while reading Larry's book, I was confused. I wrote Larry a letter and asked him questions about the book. Following, instead of a traditional review, are a few of my questions and Larry's answers.
Minnie: The title doesn't indicate whether the book is a memoir or a novel. When I began reading I thought it was a memoir, especially because you included photos. Then I became confused and realized it wasn't. Can you say what the book is to you - aside from allowing you to sleep at night, which is a good thing - do you consider it a novel or a memoir or a combination of both?
Larry: Memoir or fiction or both. I gave the character [the name] Larry Ryan to keep myself on track and to help folks get through the book without knowing for sure if they were reading truth of fiction.
Minnie: You make the character Muy Ba in your book the daughter of General Giap. General Giap was an extraordinary military officer with a fascinating history. Can you talk about how you made the choice to have your character, Larry Ryan, marry one of General Giap's daughters? And why you chose to make General Giap a major figure in the narrative?
Larry: General Giap. I'm happy to hear you admire him. I do too. The part about his fictional daughter Muy Ba starts with a lovely young Vietnamese teenager coming up from the hold of a boat that was loaded with pineapples. She was holding a plate of pineapple slices from fruit picked that morning. My real friend Vern Shibla and I loved the pineapple. Then comes the fiction. I did not get on the pineapple boat and go downstream with her and her general father.
Minnie: I will admit that this was the place, the introduction of General Giap, his wife, and his daughter, that I became confused and didn't know whether I was reading a memoir or fiction. I think for a reader, this would be useful information. Writers often incorporate historical figures into their works of fiction, but traditionally the title of a novel on a published work is followed by the words "A Novel by…." or "Memoir by…" I became more confused when what had been a first person narrative suddenly switched to the third person. Sometimes a paragraph begins with the first person pronoun "I" and switches abruptly to the third person—he or Larry. Some chapters, not about Larry, were entirely third person stories—narratives about other characters subsidiary to the story. At times I felt you had written several pieces originally as short stories and then put them in as chapters without really editing for the whole body of the book. Was this an intentional choice and what was behind that choice?
(Larry did not answer this question.)
Minnie: An observation, not a question: There were times in the book when the explicit sex passages did not really contribute to the overall demands of the book itself. Those were the times where I felt the author could have benefited from the input of a good editor. Sometimes less really is more!
Larry: An editor! What a wonderful concept. Yes, I know I need one and am not at all disappointed to hear from you about my many mistakes. Thank you very much. The explicit sex early on is to set the scene for a sex addicted soldier to get needed help.
Minnie: What is essentially the second half of the book—life in America post-Vietnam and the main character's activity in anti-war protests and actions—is equally necessary. What it's like "coming home." Were you involved in actions with Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn or was this too a device? That info in a preface or afterword would have helped me as a reader.
Larry: I have been married to my wife, Lynn, from Chicago for over 50 years. I never had a Vietnamese girlfriend in Vietnam. I did not work with Bill or Bernadine against the war but am now convinced they were right about bringing the war home. The testimony Larry Ryan gives in the book from the Winter Soldier Investigation into War Crimes in Vietnam is all taken from my actual testimony posted online.
Bill Ayers and I met to discuss this project. He liked the idea of having my fictional characters work with the real Weatherman tribe that gave us the days of rage.
Lost in Vietnam: AWOL in Southeast Asia is self-published and available through Amazon.com as a paperback or Kindle e-book.
Minnie Warburton, writer and artist, lives in Annapolis, MD.
Husband Vic McInnis was a chaplain for twenty years, serving with the Marines in both Afghanistan and Iraq.