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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
Aug082014

Q&A with author Lan Cao

Lan Cao is the author of the new novel The Lotus and the Storm. Her other work includes the novel Monkey Bridge and the work of nonfiction Everything You Need to Know About Asian-American History. Born in Vietnam, she teaches at the Dale E. Fowler School of Law at Chapman University in Orange, California.

Q: Why did you choose “The Lotus and the Storm” as the title of your new book?

A: I like the contrasting images -- the lotus being a Buddhist symbol of serenity and the storm conveying the very opposite of serenity. The storm represents Bao and the lotus represents ... that's a question that different people will have different answers for. The book is in many ways a journey through the storm, chaos and fragmentation of war.

Q: What more can you say about the significance of the character Bao?

A: Bao means storm literally in Vietnamese, so the character represents the turbulence of trauma.

Q: Did you know how the book would end when you started writing, or did you make changes along the way?

A: I rarely ever know where each chapter will end, how one chapter will follow another, much less how the book will end when I start writing. It's all very organic for me and for fiction writing, that's how I like it. My first drafts tend to be a bit picaresque and my revisions once the book is finished are meant to tighten, not change the story line. 

Q: In addition to your novels, you’ve co-authored a nonfiction book about Asian-American history, and you are a law professor. How is your fiction affected by your other work?

A: My legal scholarship has focused on international trade, international economic law (World Trade Organization law)  and an area of law called law and development. The latter involves the relationship between law and economic and political development in developing countries.

My fiction deals a lot with transitions -- outsider to maybe insider, half lives to less halved lives (maybe more whole lives), war or wasteland to peace, immigrants to Americans (or one's ideas of what makes an American). My law work is also focused on transitions -- emerging economies transitioning to a different system and the legal framework that is needed (or not) to facilitate this transition.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: In law, I'm revising a legal book to be published by Oxford University Press called Culture in Law and Development: Nurturing Positive Change (looking at how the field of law and development -- and related fields such as public international law, private international law (international trade), international human rights, international relations -- have all excluded culture from their academic lens (focusing instead on states and markets)).

I argue that cultural norms must be incorporated into law and development if it is to be effective. Much of the book explores the meaning of development, how culture is bound to and affects development and controversially, may sometimes have to be purposefully changed to implement a development agenda that includes not just economic development but also human rights, particularly women's rights. 

I am going to start writing a collection of short stories loosely bound together by a core group of common characters. It's just too new now to know where it's going. So I don't have enough to say anything more about it. The characters will be from different parts of the world, so all ethnically diverse.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. This interview is also posted at deborahkalbbooks.blogspot.com.

Monday
May122014

Q&A with author Cara Hoffman

Cara Hoffman is the author of the new novel Be Safe I Love You. She also has written the novel So Much Pretty. She teaches at Bronx Community College, and she lives in New York City.

Q: In a recent New York Times piece, you wrote that "stories about female veterans are nearly absent from our culture. It’s not that their stories are poorly told. It’s that their stories are simply not told in our literature, film and popular culture." Why is that?

A: A very simple answer: Sexism. Until recently women have been prevented from serving a full range of occupations in the army, the same way that women in other eras were prevented from a full range of opportunities including voting, going to college, working in professional fields.

Over time these things changed. But it often took a while for fiction to catch up to reality. This is certainly the case when it comes to women in the military and women veterans. Their stories are not told because of discrimination, in the same way stories of African American senators or doctors or lawyers were not told in the 1930s or '40s or earlier.

Q: How did you come up with your protagonist, Lauren Clay?

A: There is no specific real world inspiration for Lauren Clay. She’s like many people who’ve made the decision to join the army for financial reasons, and who have strong ties to family.

I interviewed women who enlisted and fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. I already knew a number of men who’d been soldiers including my brother.

Lauren’s musical skills and love for holy minimalist music come from my own experiences, as well as the setting in which she grew up.

Q: Why did you choose "Be Safe I Love You" as the book's title?

A: It’s the phrase Danny uses to sign off on his dispatches to his sister while she’s in Iraq.

And it expresses the urgency of the novel. I’m sure we’ve all used this phrase at one time or another talking to those we care about.

Q: Which authors have particularly inspired you?

A: My favorite writers are generally outsiders: David Wojnarowicz, Zora Neale Hurston, Paul Bowles, Flannery O’Connor, Jean Genet, Louis Ferdinand Celine. These are the writers that have I turn to again and again.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: A novel about homeless kids living in Athens, Greece.

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

 

Friday
May022014

Q&A with author Ron Capps

Ron Capps is the author of the new memoir Seriously Not All Right: Five Wars in Ten Years. He served in the U.S. Army and the U.S. Foreign Service. He is the founder and director of the Veterans Writing Project, and his writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including Time magazine and The American Interest. He lives in Washington, D.C., and Youngsville, N.Y.

Q: Why did you decide to write a memoir, and why the title "Seriously Not All Right"?

A: Well, it’s somewhat complex, but bear with me. I was a reporting officer for the State Department—a Foreign Service officer doing political work—and an intelligence officer in the Army. My main task in both of those jobs was to go to interesting places, work hard to understand the culture, the people and their lives, and any conflicts ongoing, then to write about what I saw the country and my thoughts about what it meant for U.S. policy.

Over the period from 1996 to 2006 I went to report on five separate wars: Central Africa, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Darfur. The thing about reporting for the government is that your readers—analysts, staff officers, desk officers, policy designers—expect pretty straightforward reporting. So I was expected to write crisp, dry accounts of messy horrible acts of cruelty. I found that, over time, I needed to tell more of the story. So at night when I would go back to my tent or my room, I would write the rest of what happened.

The thing is that because of my exposure to all of that violence, I developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I tried to ignore it but couldn’t, so I sought medical care. I found that therapy didn’t work; therapy and meds didn’t work; therapy, meds and alcohol didn’t work. What worked for me was writing. I used writing as a way of getting control of the traumatic memories that were at the root of my struggle with PTSD.

The book is the result of writing those stories down. The title comes from a time in Afghanistan when I was in treatment for PTSD with an Army psychiatrist. He asked me to develop a method for tracking how I felt from day to day. I came up with a simple continuum ranging from “all right” on one end, to “vaguely not all right” in the middle, to “seriously not all right” at the far end.  My publisher and I decided this was as good a description of the story line as any.

Q: You write in your book about "moral injury." Can you describe that, and how it has affected you and others dealing with PTSD?

A: Moral injuries occur when combatants are involved in incidents that challenge their core beliefs about humanity or that transgress their sense of morality. I think often of the soldiers in Rwanda who witnessed genocide but who were restrained by their commanders from doing anything about it as suffering what could only be a moral injury.

In my case I was often constrained by diplomatic rules or political decisions from taking action to stop suffering—this happened in Kosovo, Zaire, and Darfur particularly.

Personally, I think this type of injury is one of the hardest to repair because it gets quite often at actions not taken rather than those taken—someone more religious might think of sins of omission rather than of commission.

Q: How did you end up starting the Veterans Writing Project, and what impact has it had on those who have participated?

A: Once I left government service (at the end of 2008), I went back to graduate school at Johns Hopkins—this time for writing. I was using my GI Bill benefits and as I got close to graduation I started wondering what I was going to do with what I had learned. I felt that I needed to show something for having used the taxpayers’ money for something like a writing degree.

The idea came to me to just give it away—to give to others what I had learned in grad school but also as a working writer (I was getting pieces published in TIME, Foreign Policy, The American Interest, and some other places.). So I though about what that might look like and the VWP model is what I came up with.

I think one of the best things we do is simply give people the skills and confidence to tell their own story and by offering them a place to feel safe while they learn and get started. We’ve had veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War and Somalia, plus Iraq and Afghanistan come through—and we’ve had their family members, too. We also provide them a platform to publish in our journal, O-Dark-Thirty.

Q: You describe the "contradictions inherent in the military medical system." What do you think should be changed, and is it likely to be?

A: Right. The doctors in the military medical system have, necessarily, a divided loyalty. They have to provide care for the patient and to protect the patient’s rights. But they also have a duty to protect the service and to insure that the patient—in my case a field grade officer with a top secret security clearance and over one hundred people working for me—can carry out the mission.

In my case the doctor allowed me to keep my treatment hidden from my commander so that I could remain in theater, as long as I was actually in treatment and he could supervise my recovery.

Should this be changed? I don’t know. That’s a pretty challenging policy question that bigger thinkers than I should tackle.

Q: What are you writing now?

A: A novel. It takes place in The Sudan in 1916 and involves the politics, diplomacy, and military force involved in subverting and eventually defeating and killing the last Sultan of Darfur, Ali Dinar.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Really, only that many, many service members suffer from some level of PTSD and that the huge majority of us will be just fine in the long run. Don’t think of returning veterans as any sort of ticking bomb or Rambo-type character to be feared and monitored. We’ve had some experiences that most others haven’t and we’re dealing with those pretty well in most cases. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. This Q&A also appears on deborahkalbbooks.blogspot.com. An earlier Q&A with Ron Capps appears here.

Saturday
Mar292014

Q&A with Professor Tom Mascaro

Tom Mascaro is the author of Into the Fray: How NBC's Washington Documentary Unit Reinvented the News. He teaches media history at Bowling Green State University, and he lives in Livonia, Michigan.

Q: You write, "My purpose is to fill in the historical narrative of NBC news and documentary, which is lacking compared to the bibliography on CBS." Why do you think there's been more written about CBS?

A: One chief reason is Gary Paul Gates, a veritable chronicler of CBS News. Air Time: The Inside Story of CBS News is a classic. Gates also contributed to books by Dan Rather (The Palace Guard); Bob Schieffer (The Acting President); and Mike Wallace (Close Encounters and Between You and Me).

CBS’s editorial courage on subjects like McCarthyism, The Selling of the Pentagon, or Vietnam intelligence disputes have generated much literature. The Murrow biographies and Fred Friendly’s books established useful frameworks for others.

CBS has been a beacon of broadcast journalism since World War II, so its health is a bellwether for journalism and the nation, which is why Who Killed CBS? The Undoing of America’s Number One Network, by Peter Boyer, is another classic.

However, the revered NBC News visionary, Reuven Frank, writes in his important (and overlooked) memoir Out of Thin Air: The Brief, Wonderful Life of Network News about CBS’s emphasis on words versus NBC’s commitment to picture: “The CBS staff modeled television news on radio news, the same structure for writers and editors, the same standards, purposes, and emphasis on words.”

Frank continues, “Pictures are the point of television reporting. Television enables the audience to see things happen, and that is what newspapers and magazines and radio cannot duplicate.”

Reuven also famously wrote, “The highest power of television journalism is not in the transmission of information but in the transmission of experience.” This helps explain the logic and importance of the documentaries produced by the NBC Washington unit and chronicled in Into the Fray.

Q: Three of the major figures in your book are David Brinkley, Ted Yates, and Bob Rogers. What did each of them contribute to the legacy of NBC News during the Cold War period?

A: Brinkley emphasized intelligent common sense. He was appalled by official and institutional neglect of obvious issues—landlords profiting from the squalid conditions of their renters; incompetence and corruption in highway construction projects; and one particular theme of the Cold War—disposition of U.S. aid to Latin America, where the privileged few profited from the scrum between Castro communism and U.S. capitalistic democracy, while peasants continued to suffer. “A hungry child should not be mixed up in international politics,” Brinkley stated in one installment of David Brinkley’s Journal, “he should just be fed.”

Yates is a pioneering figure in NBC News and American journalism history. Although Rogers was the better writer, Yates was still a gifted storyteller. But he was also extremely committed to and courageous about reporting from dangerous sites of Cold War struggles in Latin America, Congo, and the Middle East, where he was killed.

Yates had a sense of the overall. He was not content to produce just one program on Vietnam; Yates led the production of The Battle for Asia, a prescient documentary trilogy on Thailand, Laos, and Indonesia that revealed the full sweep of the Cold War in Southeast Asia. He was the first to appear as an on-air correspondent and producer-director of documentary programming, made most evident in his award-winning coverage on Santo Domingo: War among Friends.

Rogers established standards of in-depth research, a practice of seeking out all available voices on a region or issue, peerless writing (especially the blend of word with image), and making the best possible call on a story based on the evidence. Rogers won the Writers Guild Award two times for NBC documentaries. He mentored a coterie of women researchers and associate producers and bequeathed his Jesuit-inspired standards to those who were able to work with him.

Rogers also took up the mantle of the NBC Washington documentary unit after the death of Ted Yates in 1967 and kept the unit viable until his death in 1989. His career spanned the life and death of the Berlin Wall—all as a documentary news producer for NBC—and Rogers reported and produced numerous reports on Cold War issues.

Q: What impact did the Vietnam War have on the journalists you write about?

A: It varied. Cameraman Jim Norling always had a bad feeling about Vietnam, although Jim went to many dangerous parts of the world. He filmed Papa Doc Duvalier with a machine gun pointed at his back; he took machine-gun fire in Santo Domingo; and he was shoulder-to-shoulder with Yates when Ted was shot in Jerusalem. Norling was fearless but had reservations about covering Vietnam.

Julian Townsend shot one of the most important documentaries ever on the subject, Vietnam: It’s a Mad War (1964, before the escalation). His footage is extraordinary! Townsend also shot the Congo program and the trilogy on Southeast Asia, including going back to Vietnam. He understood Vietnam was a singular war and a regional conflict, and he knew how to cover it on film. But he too began to worry about how risking his life risked his family’s livelihood.

Vietnam taught Yates to look at the bigger picture. He saw (and wrote about) the beginnings of what he viewed as “World War III,” in which hundreds of small proxy wars around the globe were putting peasants at risk under the thumb of Cold War superpowers. Vietnam sensitized Yates to how U.S. policies favoring right-wing dictators or military governments and oligarchs versus communist efforts to appeal to the resultant poverty of Latin Americans and Southeast Asians, created conditions that pushed the poor, the peasants into the arms of communist revolutions at the same time the revolutions risked their lives for an ideological struggle. Vietnam taught Yates to see the interconnectedness of U.S. foreign policy.

Rogers—who was a distinguished military officer, intelligence analyst, and general’s aide—had a Graham-Greenesque sense about Vietnam. He saw the end at the beginning. It was Rogers who pointed NBC cameras at the French gravesite outside Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) warning of America’s fate—in the summer of 1964.

The person most affected by Vietnam, though, was Judy Bird Williams. Judy was hired as a researcher, equal in college credentials and ability to any of the men, but suffering from the 1950s mores for women, translated into low aspirations. Williams pushed her way into the program on Indonesia, part of the Southeast Asia trilogy on the widening Vietnam War. As a result of her impeccable research and understanding of the region’s cultures, Williams contributed to a signature documentary, Indonesia: The Troubled Victory. Emboldened by her success, Judy left NBC and became an independent journalist in the region for many years.

Q: What do you think of NBC News these days, and how does it compare with the era you examine in the book?

A: Despite real concerns about contemporary society’s lack of appreciation for serious journalism and competent journalists, I still believe all of the broadcast networks continue to feature highly skilled reporters, especially on foreign affairs.

Richard Engel at NBC is a one-man global hot-spot reporter, complemented by Senior Foreign Correspondent Keith Miller, and others. Andrea Mitchell continues to inform and educate NBC and MSNBC viewers about foreign affairs policy. Jim Miklaszewski is a stalwart Pentagon correspondent.

The issue is not people or the quality of the reporting at NBC or any respectable news network. It is a lack of personnel and bureaus for expansive foreign coverage compared to the era of the NBC Washington documentary unit; lack of interest in regular documentary journalism (Frontline being the notable exception), and the regulatory devaluation of documentary journalism caused by 1980s FCC policies and the relaxation of anti-trust regulation.

Documentary journalism by nature challenges the status quo and society to stop looking at the mythology of popular culture for a moment and take stock of some reality.

The global conglomerates enabled by relaxed anti-trust regulation have subsumed network news divisions into enterprises that drown out and diminish the valuable journalism still produced by network news and many media organizations.

It may also be more difficult today to duplicate the kind of in-depth, on-site documentary filmmaking that Yates, et al, did in the 1960s and through the 1980s. The dangers to journalists in the present have amplified exponentially.

Perhaps because of the impression that America “won the Cold War,” average citizens and media executives believe there’s no longer a need for broadening rather than contracting our collective news footprint. Of course global and domestic terrorism reveal the folly of this position.

One of the reasons I wrote the book was not only to honor the legacy of Ted Yates, Stuart Schulberg, Bob Rogers, Judy Bird Williams, and their compatriots, but also to show—by recreating the history of the documentary era—what we are missing and what we have lost. Only PBS honors the network tradition of regularly scheduled, prime-time, long-form documentary journalism.

So the difference is there was no PBS then and the networks were committed to serious documentary journalism, because society expected them to be.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: While researching and writing Into the Fray, I became more interested in the field of “engaged” writers, men and women who believed in taking action and writing to rectify social wrongs. I found similarities connecting Yates, Schulberg, and Rogers to familiar journalist-novelists, Hemingway, Gellhorn, Saint-Exupéry, Camus, Sartre, Beauvoir, and others.

I’m working on an article about their history and philosophy. I think in our 24-7 info-atmosphere, part of what is missing is a sense of philosophy or set of common values, which has been replaced by falsely equating opinion with evidence. The engaged writers delved into realities to understand human conflict.

I’m also preparing the proposal and draft of the second book about the NBC Washington unit, which has the working title “Our National Self-Respect: The NBC Washington Documentary Unit of Robert F. Rogers,” which carries the story through 1989 and the end of network documentaries.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I sincerely hope journalists and general interest readers will engage the story of Ted Yates. Yates was the heir-apparent to Edward R. Murrow in the color television age, but he was cut down at age 36 while reporting from Jerusalem during the first hours of the Six-Day War. He was a colorful, well-loved figure whose story has yet to be appreciated.

I think readers who want to know the story of Ted Yates will find a compelling tale in Into the Fray, as well as a saga of a band of brothers and sisters who devoted their lives to thoughtful documentary journalism in service to human freedom everywhere.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. This Q&A can also be found on deborahkalbbooks.blogspot.com.

 

Saturday
Jan112014

Q&A with author Beverly Gologorsky

Beverly Gologorsky, photo by Marion EttlingerBeverly Gologorsky is the author of the new novel Stop Here. She also wrote the novel The Things We Do To Make It Home. She was the editor of Viet-Report and Leviathan, and her work has appeared in publications including Newsweek and The Nation. She is based in the New York City area.

Q: War and its aftermath have played a big role in both of your novels. Why have you chosen this theme?

A: I don’t even know it as something I would focus on. I grew up in the South Bronx, where everyone was a soldier. To me, these are the people I knew. Growing up in a society where war is present—it’s always there….

[It’s more a question of] why isn’t war the background [in more books]. My characters breathe the air; I can’t ignore it.

I never go to a foreign land in my books.

Q: It’s more the impact of the war at home.

A: The impact at home, and the lives we lead—it informs the politics, it informs individual lives, it informs the people who go to war.

Q: Should more novels include war, or are you just surprised that more don’t?

A: I guess I’m surprised. You look at Nadine Gordimer’s books, you know that apartheid is there, but she just locates you in a place. You’d never say to her, why are you writing about apartheid; it’s just a background to her wonderful characters.

Q: Why did you decide to tell the story in Stop Here from the perspective of a variety of characters?

A: I have a problem with having a lot of voices in my head! There’s so much I feel I have to say, and want to say, and I can’t narrow it as much as other writers can. Because of how and where I grew up, I want to give voice to many women with whom I grew up.

Q: Are there any writers who have been role models or inspirations?

A: I’m a voracious reader; I read fiction from all over the world. Nadine Gordimer, Russell Banks. There are so many writers from whom I have learned so much—the classics, the Russian writers—that could be where I get so many characters!

Q: Did you feel especially sympathetic toward any of your characters, and were there any that you particularly disliked?

A: I’m very sympathetic to Rosalyn. She represents so many women in our society who struggle to do and be something, and then get struck down that way. Her personality and outlook are one to be emulated. She’s a very strong woman.

Murray, to me, is the antithesis. He’s sluggish. But he interested me—he exists for me in people I know.

Q: Did you intend to write from both male and female perspectives?

A: I didn’t plan it, but once a character was alive in me, I began to write it. Nick was alive in me, and I found it really easy to be him. It’s like when Flaubert was asked about Madame Bovary, he said, “C’est moi.”

Q: When you started Stop Here, did you know how it would end?

A: It evolved. I never know how it’s going to end. I think I’d lose interest if I knew. For me, the process of writing is one of depth and discovery.

Q: Did the characters surprise you as you went along?

A: Yes. Not so much in Stop Here, but in The Things We Do To Make It Home. The characters would elude me. I’d stop and go to another document, and write another biography of the character that never appears in the book [to move ahead].

Q: The Things We Do To Make It Home focused on the impact of the Vietnam War on a group of veterans and their families. What do you see as the continuing effect of that war on this country?

A: The Vietnam War alerted the country and the world to another kind of fighting altogether: liberation struggle. The idea of going into Vietnam—there was a lack of understanding [in that situation] as well as in Iraq. In Vietnam, the veterans when they came back—the soldiers were taught to kill, to hate the enemy, and that’s the only way human beings can kill. These kids believed they would meet up with monsters. They lost their belief system, and when they came back, they felt like murderers.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: The title is "Every Body Has a Story." That is sort of where it’s going—it changes as I work on it.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I have an essay in The Huffington Post, “In the Shadow of War,” that links to a review of the book. 

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