Sunday, June 2, 2019

A book review...


Brian M. Biggs has published a book titled, Prove My Soul: Another Side to the Vietnam War. It is a great story, well-told. Biggs presents a unique perspective of his service in Vietnam and the lasting friendships he formed there. He has a gift for description and can put you on the ground in Danang amid the dust, heat, and humidity; or at a family dinner savoring the spices, textures, and flavors of Vietnamese food. And he does it in elegant prose that makes a writer stop and say, “Damn, I wish I wrote that.” Here is an example:

Splashes of cold mist washed over my face as I rode the landing craft across Danang Bay and up the River Han but the sense of anything cold vanished when we docked at Museum Beach where the humidity, like a vacuum, sucked away the air. My sea bag thunked onto the ramp when I stepped out of the boat with thirty other Marines. My T-shirt, utility jacket, face, arms, and crotch were soaked with sweat and the air smelled musty, like festered seaweed, russet and dry and lifeless on a beach.

And another, describing the taste of Mi Quang, a favorite Vietnamese dish:

I dipped my spoon into the broth with my left hand, brought it to my mouth, and swallowed. The nectar flowed over my tongue and its kingdom of sensations stimulated the taste of chicken and pepper and shrimp. My right hand used the dua to shovel in a cluster of bun noodles, dripping with broth and infused with pork and shrimp and chicken and all those spices.

Biggs tells his story in a unique way, alternating chapters from his service in Vietnam in 1966-67 with chapters from his return visit in 2001. It is not an easy structure to pull off, but the author handles it with skill. The juxtaposition of the chapters is very effective.

There are important lessons in this story. One is the quote Biggs uses to lead into the Epilogue:

Think of no one as “them”
Honor everyone’s Holidays
Imagine other cultures through their poetry and novels
Listen to music you don’t understand –
Dance to it

But the one that resonates for me is the Buddhist philosophy of living in the moment. As one Vietnamese friend puts it, “…your past is gone and your future is not here yet. You must spend your precious time to live with your wonderful reality.” This helps me understand how the people can be warm, welcoming, and forgiving toward U.S. soldiers who fought in what the Vietnamese call the “American War.”

There are many moving moments in Biggs’s story, and a misunderstanding that is not resolved until the final pages. Prove My Soul made me laugh and cry and learn. Highly recommended!

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