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 What people are saying about Haunting Legacy

"What a terrific book!"

Lesley Stahl, correspondent for 60 Minutes


"This is great narrative history and biography combined to create informative case studies."

Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute


"Marvin Kalb and Deborah Kalb’s account of this phenomenon is studiously researched, vividly narrated, and, above all, highly readable. It will stand as a major contribution to the subject."

Stanley Karnow, author of Vietnam: A History and winner of the Pulitzer Prize

 

To read more reviews of Haunting Legacy, click here.

Friday
Apr132018

Q&A with poet Diana Khoi Nguyen

Diana Khoi Nguyen is the author of the new poetry collection Ghost Of. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Poetry and American Poetry Review. She lives in Denver, and is a doctoral candidate in creative writing at the University of Denver.

Q: How did you come up with the title of your poetry collection, and what does it signify for you?

A: The title came from a friend. We’re actually not friends any more. The former friend had read a different version of the manuscript with completely different poems. There were many different kinds of shades or forms, and they recommended I title it “Ghost Of.”

I liked it because it felt incomplete, like the fragmentary identities that come to our mind. A couple of years later, I decided to write the poem “Ghost Of.” It was funny that the title gifted to me engendered a poem. It became central to how I thought of the book.

There are skeletons in the closet in any family, there are things you’ve done that haunt you. And beyond the family, it’s the Vietnam War. Everybody has ghosts.

Q: You’ve written about your late brother and the impact his absence has had on your work. How difficult was it to write these poems?

A: Some were not difficult. Actually I tend to play things down. The most difficult thing was working with the family pictures. For two years after his suicide, I couldn’t go near his room.

Everybody grieves in different ways. I wanted to be as far from physical reminders as possible. My father took to wearing his shoes, his hat. I felt numb for a long time. I felt guilty for feeling numb.

The pictures [that he had cut himself out of before his death] had power to them. He did it very calmly. He cut himself out with an Exacto knife and put the pictures back. Up until last Christmas, they were still there.

I was faced with the reminder of what he’d done, and knowing the artifacts he left behind had this power, I wanted to work against and do something with the images. I wanted to reach him and fill him in.

There were all these feelings that finally opened me up. That was the hard part. I finally grieved. It also felt so good to free that from me. The other poems were hard, but don’t deal with it directly.

The hardest thing is reading the poems out loud to people. It’s such a private thing. I worry—I’m not trying to perform grief. I know most people have lost somebody, and I bring them to that space of grief, but it speaks to people. It’s a form of connection I find valuable.

Q: You mentioned the Vietnam War—what’s been the impact and the legacy of the war on you and your family?

A: About four or five years ago my mother finally told me the story of how she came to this country. In third, or fifth, grade you’re supposed to talk about how your ancestors came to this country.

My father’s story was quite simple—on the day the war ended, he and his family went to the U.S. Embassy and got on a plane because his father worked for the Embassy.

My mother never wanted to talk about it. My parents are very forward-looking. They own multiple properties in California, they both got their master’s. I don’t know why she finally felt she could open up about it….

I started to become acutely aware of the nuances around me. I had experienced racial slurs. It came to a point that this was not okay. I wanted to push back, and I wanted to know who my parents were. I felt she had undiagnosed PTSD. The war ended when she was about 16, a formative time as a teenager. She finally shared a hard story.

It was really sad. She was from a large family, one of 11 children. They ran a local pharmacy in Saigon. My grandfather worked for the Embassy as well. They were told to bring your family to the Embassy, and my grandfather was really prideful and didn’t think the South could lose the war.

My eldest uncle was studying abroad. [My grandfather] took his youngest son, and left his daughters and wife behind to run the family business. The gender dynamic is important. My grandmother, mother, aunts were left behind.

The way this was told is that one aunt escorted her father and brother to the Embassy, and they realized it was a big mistake in not taking the whole family, but it was too late. I try to imagine my grandfather when he realized that.

My mother describes the insane chaos in Saigon, teenagers haphazardly driving tanks down the street. When the Communists took over she had to go to a reeducation camp.

They kept trying to escape. It was a big risk. My grandfather was sending back gold. You didn’t know who you could trust. They ended up on a rickety boat, and made it to a refugee camp in Malaysia. And they finally came over. There were so many moments when they were almost caught. They were living in constant terror.

When I learned the story, I had sympathy and empathy for my mother. I didn’t know how she could do everything she did here. It helped me understand. It made me think about the people who didn’t make it.

My dissertation project is to travel to the diaspora in this country [and others] and record how they tell the story, and examine how people assimilate. There’s always a [refugee crisis] happening.

Q: Over how long a time did you write these poems, and how did you decide on the order in which they would appear?

A: My brother died in 2014. The title was there before that. It happened really fast. I didn’t decide to write with the pictures until July 2016. I write in summer and winter. I wrote it in August and December 2016. The book was picked up in 2017.

The book just poured out of me once I figured out how to access that part of me. Ninety percent was written in 30 days. I plan, I prepare, and I don’t see anybody for 15 days.

I printed everything out, and then I knew I wanted three sections. I like the prime numbers, the imbalance. A beginning, a middle, and an end. There also were three siblings, now there are only two of us…

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: The cover makes me happy. Tennis is crucial to our family, and it’s an homage to this tradition in my family. In Asian households you don’t wear shoes in the house, and the sandals encapsulated our family culture.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. This Q&A also appears on deborahkalbbooks.blogspot.com.

Friday
Nov102017

Q&A with John House

John House is the author of the new novel Uncommon Bond, which focuses on a U.S. Army doctor who becomes a POW during the Vietnam War. He also has written Rancor and Trail of Deceit. He served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, and has practiced family medicine for 50 years. He lives on the southeast coast of Georgia.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Uncommon Bond, and for your main characters?

A: The idea came from my knowledge of a flight surgeon in the 1st Cavalry Division who became a POW when the helicopter in which he was a passenger went down in South Vietnam.

He was captured by the Viet Cong before U.S. forces arrived. He was initially held by the VC and later transferred to the North Vietnamese who moved him north to Hanoi. That is the only part of the story that is factual history; the rest came from my imagination.

The character David Hanson, the American flight surgeon, was based on a composite of physicians, including me. I utilized my knowledge of the years of training in medical school, internship, and residency. Then came the draft, the indoctrination in the U.S. Army at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and, for some, attendance at the aviation medicine school at Fort Rucker, Alabama.

I attended North Georgia College, the Senior Military College in Georgia, and was commissioned as second lieutenant upon graduation. After medical school and internship, I entered the U.S. Army and volunteered for Vietnam. Many physicians were drafted and were bitter over the interruption of their medical training.

I developed the character Major Duc Phan Thiet from my imagination. I used the name of my South Vietnamese interpreter who accompanied me on visits to the many villages around our base camp to provide medical care. It wasn’t hard to imagine that the medical people of the NVA worked under primitive conditions and great stress.

Q: What did you see as the right blend between the historical and fictional aspects of the story?

A: The historical facts involved: the Vietnam War, the presence of the 1st Cavalry Division, the actual units involved in the story, and, other than name changes, the characters are composites of many men who fought bravely in that war. I was the flight surgeon for 2/20th Aerial Rocket Artillery battalion, Cobra gunships, located in Phuoc Vinh, Tay Ninh, and Quan Loi.

The fictional aspect involved the relationship between Dr. Hanson and Major Duc. I wanted to show the brutality of war and the human relationships that can develop when former enemies learn they are similar in many ways.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?

A: All members of the NVA weren’t monsters, just like all members of the U.S. Army weren’t saints. What I depicted in this story has happened in all wars when former combatants learn they have much in common. They all have loved ones they left at home, and hope to return to someday.

David Hanson, the American flight surgeon, suffered torture with physical and mental abuse until he met Major Duc Phan Thiet, the NVA surgeon. Then he discovered a greater pain, an emotional pain, when he refused to violate his oath of office and help the overworked surgeon care for the NVA and VC wounded.

When circumstances forced him to choose between his oath to his country and his Hippocratic Oath, the guilt he experienced from his choice was soothed by his relationship with Major Duc’s wife, a civilian nurse who had traveled over the Ho Chi Minh Trail from Hanoi through Laos and Cambodia to be with her husband.

Q: Who are some of your favorite authors?

A: My favorite author in my youth was Alistair MacLean, the author of The Guns of Navarone and many other titles. I have managed to collect all his works. Later in life, I’ve enjoyed James Patterson, Lee Childs, Stuart Woods, and Charles Martin. One of my favorite writers of historical fiction is David L. Robbins.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Presently I’m working on three different manuscripts with most of my time spent on a story involving a Catholic priest and a prostitute brought together by fate when they both chose the same place and time on the Golden Gate Bridge to jump to their deaths.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I’m in my 50th year of practicing family medicine and I work in a clinic 4½ days a week. Despite my busy schedule, I always find time to write.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. This interview also appears on deborahkalbbooks.blogspot.com.

Friday
Sep292017

Q&A with James Reston Jr.

James Reston Jr., photo by Susan RainesJames Reston Jr. is the author of the new book A Rift in the Earth: Art, Memory, and the Fight for a Vietnam Memorial. His many other books include The Conviction of Richard Nixon and Warriors of God, and his work has appeared in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and a variety of other publications. He lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Q: You write, "The roots of this book reach back to my own service in the U.S. Army (1965-1968)..." Why did you decide to focus on the Vietnam War Memorial in your new book, and what impact did your own service have in inspiring the book?

A: There are two emotional roots for The Rift in the Earth. The first is that I have a friend on the Wall, who trained with me in Army Intelligence in 1965-66, and who was killed on the first day of the Tet Offensive in the city of Hue on Jan. 30, 1968. His story is told in the last chapter of the book.

The brilliance of Maya Lin’s Wall is that the survivor views the name of his dead comrade as his own image is reflected in the black granite. The death of Ron Ray could easily have been my death.

The second is my friendship with the late Frederick Hart, the sculptor of the three soldiers at the Memorial. I sent long hours talking to him in the 1990s about the “art war” over Maya Lin’s design in which he was a central player.

Q: How would you characterize the dynamic between architect Maya Lin and sculptor Frederick Hart?

A: Bitter. Maya Lin was the winner against 1,420 competitors in a very professional artistic contest. It was, at the time, the largest artistic competition for a piece of public art in the history of American and European art.

The judges of the contest were highly distinguished luminaries in the world of American art and architecture. And so there was a fundamental moral principle about the sanctity and inviolability of a winning design.

But because this was public art, in which agencies of the U.S. government had to accept and certify a work of public art for the most sacred space in Washington, the National Mall, the process was in part political.

When there was a ferocious backlash about Lin’s design for the blackness of its granite, for being underground, for displaying only the names of the dead with no mention of the sacrifice, service, and occasional heroism of those who fought, a compromise became necessary. As a brilliant figurative artist, Hart was the beneficiary.

Lin was horrified at the notion of an entirely different style of art being imposed upon her work. It was an immoral violation of her work, and she was supported by the artistic and architectural community. But Congress and the White House imposed Hart’s statues on the Wall as a way of saving the Memorial.

Hart, in turn, was contemptuous of Lin’s objections, and felt he was the savior of the Memorial. In his testimony during the art war, he was deferential to her winning design. But, in his sharper moments, he referred to her as an “ingénue.”

Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: “A rift in the earth” is a phrase from Maya Lin’s description of her vision for her work in the Memorial competition. It was her words, more than the simple, almost high-schoolish drawing of her chevron, that won her the big prize. Her handwritten words were moving and poetic, and they captivated the judges.

But I see that phrase in a larger context, as the rift in the entire Vietnam generation, that was divided passionately into different, warring, factions between those who served in Vietnam and those who either protested or avoided service altogether.

No future American generation must ever again face the moral dilemma of the Vietnam generation.

Q: What role would you say the Memorial plays today?

A: The vicious fight over the building of a Vietnam Memorial is now largely forgotten, as the Wall and Hart’s statutes are universally embraced.

But something magical has happened with time. The Wall is no longer a “veterans” memorial but a memorial for the entire Vietnam generation. It is equally welcoming to pacifists as to warriors.

Nor is it any longer just about the Vietnam War, but about all wars. And it is broader still. To see parents bring their young children by the thousands to the Wall is to realize that the Memorial is for all generations, as we contemplate the ultimate cost of any war.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m returning to a 9/11 novel that I began some years ago.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. This Q&A also appears on deborahkalbbooks.blogspot.com.

Thursday
Jul272017

Q&A with Marc Leepson

Marc Leepson is the author of the new book Ballad of the Green Beret: The Life and Wars of Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler from the Vietnam War and Pop Stardom to Murder and an Unsolved, Violent Death. His other books include What So Proudly We Hailed and Lafayette, and his work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Preservation and Smithsonian. He lives in Loudoun County, Virginia.

Q: Why did you decide to write a biography of Barry Sadler?

A: I was going over ideas for my next book after I’d finished my Francis Scott Key biography, What So Proudly We Hailed, in the spring of 2014. A colleague, John Mort, had told me he was working on a proposal for a biography of Barry Sadler, but his literary agent wasn’t happy about it. I told John that if he decided not to go forward with the idea, I’d love to.

A few months later, John emailed to say his agent talked him out of it, and kindly sent me a good amount of material he’d accumulated. I talked to my agent and he liked the idea so I began writing the proposal and he sold it.

I am a Vietnam War veteran and have been writing about the war for more than forty years for magazines, newspapers and websites.  I had wanted to write about some aspect of the war in a book for some time but for one reason or another I wound up writing about other aspects of U.S. history. I did edit The Webster’s New World Dictionary of the Vietnam War, but that was a reference book.

So that’s one reason I jumped at the chance to write Barry Sadler’s biography—because I also would be weaving in the history of the Vietnam War and the war’s legacy.

Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that particularly surprised you?

A: I started with reading every secondary source I could find. That included four extensive magazine articles from the 1970s and 1980s. I got subscriptions to newspapers.com and several other newspaper archive websites and found tons of material on Barry Sadler, primarily from 1966-67 when he was famous.

I interviewed 71 people, including folks he grew up with in Leadville, Colorado, men he served with in the Air Force and the Army, and friends from his post-military days. I also spoke at length to his wife Lavona, although their three children would not talk to me. His literary agent was a great source, as was the family lawyer and the homicide detective who investigated the Lee Bellamy murder.

I learned an awful lot that surprised me—mainly because when I started the book, I didn’t know much more than the fact that he had the No. 1 pop song of 1966 and was an active duty Green Beret sergeant just home from Vietnam at the time.

Q: How famous was Barry Sadler in the 1960s, and what do you think was the impact of his song "The Ballad of the Green Berets"?

A: Barry Sadler went viral in 1966, 25 years before anyone uttered the word “Internet.” He had the No. 1 song for five weeks (and then for the entire year), sang on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” was the subject of a big spread in Life magazine, and in countless other magazines and newspapers—and appeared on many radio and TV shows.

Someone said he was “the right man with the right song at the right time.” He was a handsome, self-effacing Vietnam War veteran with a pleasing voice with a patriotic song that resonated in the winter and spring of 1966 before the nation turned against the Vietnam War. Had that song come out a year later, it’s all but certain it would not have been anything close to the phenomenon it was in 1966.

The song is an important part of the U.S. Army Special Forces (the official name of the Green Berets). It came along at a time when special warfare was new and controversial, and did a great deal to image of the Green Berets. It remains the unofficial theme song that’s played for SF trainees at Fort Bragg. It’s heard at Green Beret reunions—and at funerals of Green Berets.

Q: How would you describe Sadler’s attitude was toward the Vietnam War?

A: He was very hawkish. He was a true believer in the anti-communist cause and was very bitter about the outcome of the war.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m at the beginning stages of writing a proposal for a biography. I’d like to tell you and your readers the subject, but book proposals are such iffy propositions that always wait until I get a contract before spreading the word.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I’ve had great reactions to the book, including from people who knew Barry Sadler, which is very rewarding. I am continuing working on marketing the book and welcome opportunities to talk and write about it.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. This Q&A also appears on deborahkalbbooks.blogspot.com.

 

Saturday
Dec102016

Q&A with Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch is the author of the new children's picture book Adrift At Sea: A Vietnamese Boy's Story of Survival, written with Tuan Ho. Her many other books include Dance of the Banished and Last Airlift. She lives in Brantford, Ontario, Canada.

Q: How did you end up working with Tuan Ho on his story, and why did you decide to do a picture book?

A: I’ve been writing about Vietnamese boat people since the late 1980s—I was a freelance writer, and was in university when the boat people arrived in Canada and the United States, and I always wanted to write a story [about them].

I wrote two books—one was about Vietnamese orphans in the Canadian version of Operation Babylift, and I’ve written a number of stories about boat people who were children…the stories were too horrific for a child audience.

My publisher knew I was wanting to write a story from a child’s point of view. She met Tuan and realized what a good story he had, and she introduced me to him.

It was great—she was right. The problem is, a lot of stories people have are true but they’re too grim for children. When you’re doing a true story, you have to choose wisely when you’re doing it for children.

Parents may also [learn from the book]—you reach so many more people. I like to make people feel they’re the one –[in the story] with the main character; that develops empathy.

I wrote the first draft within 10 days of our first interview.

Q: So why a picture book?

A: He was 6 years old at the time [of the events in the book]. I tried to stay as close to his own voice—if it wasn’t a picture book, there would have to be more explanation. The visuals give a lot of explanation.

I’m just back from Europe--I did 24 sessions over five days. [The kids] were captivated and understood—because it’s a picture book they can understand [the characters] coming home from school and being confronted with their mother’s packing up [and saying they need to leave their home].

Q: How did the two of you work together to create the book?

A: I interviewed him one time and then wrote the first draft. We kept swapping back and forth—I sent drafts, he would correct them…I wanted it from his point of view…but other family members could correct him. He did an interview with his mother and wrote it all out for me.

He didn’t do any writing [in the book’s text], but it is his voice. I’m pleased the publisher allowed me to have his name on the cover.

Q: What do you see as the right age group for this book?

A: I’ve just started presenting it to schools. Even kids in Grade 2 are good with it. There’s one scene of people drowning, but because of the nature of the story, a simple narrative from a child’s point of view, even kids that young can understand.

One of the things the kids in Bucharest all wanted to know is what happened to Van [Tuan Ho’s younger sister, who was left behind in Vietnam but later joined the rest of the family in Canada].

I emailed her and asked, Can you send a picture of yourself with your family, so they can see you’re OK? You see the family at the end [of the book in photographs] but you still want to know.

Q: You’ve written about the impact of war in many of your books. What draws you to this subject?

A: I think kids today have it tougher than kids when we were young. I’m in my 60s. It wasn’t easy for me either. When kids read stories during difficult times, it gives them tools to deal with everyday life and put things in context.

If they realize what their parents and grandparents were going through, it doesn’t normalize it, but it gives a context to the suffering. Reading about an event…you would rather have a child learn about war by reading about it than experiencing it.

I could write a story about Tuan who wasn’t a boat person, but it wouldn’t give me the opportunity to find out what he’s made of. Having children plunged into a war and having to resolve their own problems—I find that fascinating. Kids are resilient. Children are the biggest victims of war.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I just finished a World War II novel, Don’t Tell the Commandant. It’s probably coming out in 2018 in Canada. My World War II novels get picked up internationally.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: One thing—I’m thrilled that I was able to work with [illustrator] Brian Deines. He was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Awards. His work is breathtaking—it transcends the photographic. I love the fact that pre-reading children can go through the book and get the story because the images are so real.

Brian did his own research as well. The people in the book look like Tuan’s family. A lot of people don’t realize that when a picture book is created, the author and the illustrator don’t collaborate. I was so excited [that he was doing the illustrations]. I didn’t get to see them until [soon] before the book came out.

It was not an easy book to do—in the boat, there were 60 people, and a massive amount of work went into [depicting them]. My story is 1,000 words—it was hard to get down to that. That’s why it’s a 40-page picture book; most are 32.

Some people might say there should have been more, but I wanted to have that one arc. You can read about when happened to one million people and you won’t remember it, but you can read about Tuan [and you will].

It’s mindboggling to me that there has not been a picture book done on that topic ever before. I was so happy I got to do the story I’ve wanted to do since I started writing.

Right around now, last year, since the death of Aylan Kurdi, the little Syrian boy—people [earlier] were not interested in refugee stories. I’ve had books out for 20 years, and only two are not about refugees. I’m glad the readership has caught up to that.

The U.S. and Canada are nations of immigrants. If you don’t have immigrants, you don’t have a nation.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. This Q&A also appears on deborahkalbbooks.blogspot.com.