THE BOOK: Her Own Vietnam
PUBLISHED IN: 2014
THE AUTHOR: Lynn Kanter
THE EDITOR: Rosalie Morales Kearns
THE PUBLISHER: Shade Mountain Press. Shade Mountain Press is an independent press that publishes literature by women: work that’s politically engaged, challenges the status quo, tells the stories that usually go unheard.
SUMMARY: For three decades, Della Brown has tried to forget her service as a U.S. Army nurse in Vietnam. But in the middle of the safe, sane life she’s built for herself, Della is ambushed by history. She receives a letter from a fellow combat nurse, a woman who was once her closest friend, and all the memories come flooding back: Della’s nightmarish introduction to the Twelfth Evacuation Hospital in Cu Chi, where every bed held a patient hideously wounded in ways never mentioned in nursing school. The day she learned how to tell young men they were about to die. The night her chopper pilot boyfriend failed to return from his mission.
Through these harrowing memories the reader encounters Della’s younger selves—the scared, naive nursing school graduate learning combat medicine on the job; then the traumatized young woman freshly returned from horrors no one wants her to speak about, masking her anguish with alcohol and cynical stoicism.
Even now, as a well-adjusted adult whose life is filled with meaningful work and the company of loved ones, Della has yet to come to terms with her painful history. But as the U.S. prepares to plunge into war in Iraq, Della struggles to make peace with her memories of Vietnam. She must also confront the fissures in her family life, the mystery of her father’s disappearance, the things mothers and daughters cannot—maybe should not—know about one another, and the lifelong repercussions of a single mistake.
An unflinching depiction of war and its personal costs, Her Own Vietnam is also a portrait of a woman in midlife — a mother, a nurse, and long ago a soldier.
THE BACK STORY: I was a teenager during the Vietnam war era, and my youth was shaped by the war and the passionate movement to end it. One motto of the anti-war movement was, “Bring the Boys Home.” I don’t think I was even aware there were women serving in Vietnam too.
Decades later, I was walking down the street when I was suddenly struck by a question: What would it be like to be an ordinary middle-aged woman, carrying on your daily routine, but with that experience of the Vietnam war smoldering inside you?
I started reading about the women who had served in Vietnam. To my surprise, I found there wasn’t that much published. What I did read was intriguing, but none of it really answered my questions. So I thought I’d try to write about it and discover my answers that way. I had written two other novels at that point, and both of them had been born out of that simple but compelling question, “What would it be like?”
I knew my main character, Della Brown, would be a nurse, like most – but certainly not all – of the women who served. And I knew I’d need to do a lot of research, since I have no medical background and have never served in the military. The most valuable research resource I found was a listserv for women Vietnam veterans and others who are interested in the topic. I joined the listserv and met – virtually at first, and then in real life – a group of remarkable women. I still participate in the listserv.
One thing I learned from my research fascinated me: many of the women who served in Vietnam had never talked about it, even after all these years. And so I had to wonder, what could happen decades later to make a woman veteran start to tell her stories? After balancing on a tightrope so well for so long, what would make her decide to leap off? Those questions form the heart of Her Own Vietnam.
WHY THIS TITLE? Even though war an intensely collective activity, everyone experiences it individually, in their own way. For my character Della Brown, the Vietnam war is particularly “her own” because her war experience has left her feeling so isolated, surrounded as she is by people who can’t understand why Vietnam would still have a grip on her.
WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: This is a novel that talks about the lifelong impact of war in a woman’s voice – a perspective you don’t often read about. It’s a story about specific families and relationships, and about the way public events profoundly affect people’s individual lives.
I think the book can provide book clubs with a lot to discuss and debate, on issues both personal and literary. To that end, I’ve posted some book group discussion questions and resources for further reading on my blog (https://lynnkanter.com/book-groups/). However, I’ve had the pleasure of participating in several book groups that were reading Her Own Vietnam, and none of them needed any help in coming up with their own questions and discussion points. In fact, I’ve learned a lot from these readers’ insights.
“Well written, compassionate, and perceptively told, addressing the trauma felt by the ‘invisible’ women in Vietnam.” —Foreword Reviews
“This novel is one of the best books about nurses in Vietnam.” —VVA Veteran (national magazine of the Vietnam Veterans of America)
“A cogent rebuttal to politicians who wax poetic about the glory and honor of war and militarism.” —Fiction Writers Review
“A home run… thought provoking journey into the realities of war and its impact on individuals and society.” — Military Writers Society of America
“Her Own Vietnam will captivate you, and bring you to tears. It will also give you a deeper understanding of what military nurses endure.” —Military Spouse Book Review
“Kanter explores the life of Della Brown and the haunting effects of her time in Vietnam with great emotion and insight. This novel successfully captures a very specific time in history, but it also reveals the more subtle battles of a daughter, sister, wife, mother and friend.” – Jill McCorkle, author of Life After Life and Going Away Shoes
“A powerful and necessary reminder that the violence which happens in wars ‘over there’ never stays there—it echoes and rebounds throughout the world, creating wounds in the head and heart that never quite heal.” —Kristin Ohlson, author of The Soil Will Save Us and Stalking the Divine, coauthor of the New York Times bestseller The Kabul Beauty School
“Her Own Vietnam is a wonderful accomplishment — moving, tender, raw and finally redemptive.” —Masha Hamilton, author of What Changes Everything and 31 Hours
AUTHOR PROFILE: In addition to Her Own Vietnam, I wrote the novels The Mayor of Heaven and On Lill Street, both published by Third Side Press. My short fiction has appeared in the anthologies Lost Orchard (SUNY Press), Breaking Up is Hard to Do, and The Time of Our Lives (both Crossing Press), and the literary journal Verbsap. My nonfiction has appeared in Referential Magazine and the anthologies Coming Out of Cancer (Seal Press), Testimonies (Alyson Publications) and Confronting Cancer, Constructing Change (Third Side Press).
I’m a lifelong activist for social justice causes, and have the T-shirts to prove it. I work as a freelance writer for progressive nonprofit organizations, and live with my wife in Washington, DC. I blog at http://www.lynnkanter.com and tweet at https://twitter.com/LynnKanter. You can find me on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/lynnkanterbooks.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: I’m thrilled to reach the readers of Snowflakes in a Blizzard. Thanks to Darrell Laurant for inviting me to join the other wonderful authors here.
SAMPLE CHAPTER: (Provide link). http://www.shademountainpress.com/pdfs/HerOwnVietnamChapter1.pdf
LOCAL OUTLETS: I live in Washington, DC, where you can buy Her Own Vietnam at Politics and Prose. To find an independent bookstore near you, click here: http://www.indiebound.org/indie-bookstore-finder
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: The best place to buy Her Own Vietnam is from the publisher, Shade Mountain Press: http://www.shademountainpress.com/lynnkanter.php. You’ll be supporting an independent feminist press – and you’ll get a great deal, because the paperback is on sale for $8. You can also buy the book in paperback, ebook and Kindle format, at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.
PRICE: Cover price for the paperback is $18.95. But if you buy directly from the publisher, it’s only $8! Ebook and Kindle prices vary.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Email me at Lynn@lynnkanter.com. I’d love to hear from you.