Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Review: In Country

Bobbie Ann Mason. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005 (originally published 1985). 246 pp.
Rating: Decent + 5 Scoops

"My mother never told me much about him, what he was like or what his favorite food were or anything. I don't even know how tall he was or what kind of personality he had. He's just a face in a picture, but now I'm getting real curious." (64) 

To eighteen year-old Samantha Hughes, the Vietnam War is everywhere, but nowhere. Surrounded by her Uncle Emmett and his war buddies and with the blood of a Vietnam soldier running through her veins, Sam is on a mission to piece together the Vietnam War. Devouring every book, newspaper article, video report, and personal story she encounters, Sam attempts to reconstruct the life of a Vietnam soldier traipsing through the dense jungles of Vietnam. Although she's searching for answers to understand her Uncle Emmett's behavior, she hopes to learn about the father she never knew, and in the process find herself.  However, the road to truth means making peace with the past.

Though it's been months since I read Finding the Dragon LadyMadame Nhu's story still lingers with me. So, I decided to revisit In Countrythe only other book I own pertaining to anything Vietnam. Lacking any personal connection to the Vietnam War, it existed in a vacuum to me. It lay quietly in my history book, awaiting the teacher to come upon the unit. Then, it would spring to a vivacious life; living once again among lectures, reading assignments, worksheets, images of peace sign wielding hippies spouting, "make love not war;" plus two-week's worth of class discussions of the turbulent '60's, the draft, and war protests. Uncovering the Vietnam War as Sam does in fragments forced me to reexamine the war outside of the limited parameters of my eleventh-grade U.S. History class.

I'm glad I decided to reread In Country. This time I understood Sam a little bit better. In my initial read, I found her annoying to the point of dislike. Though I still think Sam's irksome, I empathize with her search for truth. I identify with Sam's frustration as she hits brick wall after brick wall. I understand her feelings of abandonment upon her mother's remarriage, move to Lexington, and new baby. I share an affinity with Sam's restlessness and discontentment. I totally get her need to learn about her father in order to gain self-awareness. "If she couldn't know a simple fact like the source of her name, what could she know for sure?" (53). Sam's quest to ferret out answers demonstrates evolving human nature: discovery, forgiveness, reconnection, obtaining peace, and hope.

In her effort to transport the reader back to the 1980's, Mason's excessive pop culture allusions essentially diminished the import of the reference. Sprinklings of popular culture in any book, especially historical fiction is to be expected, but to bombard a reader with pop references on every page is overkill.  Though I felt the writing style suited the novel, it didn't seem to flow well; which prevented it from receiving a worthy (3 star) rating.

Favorite Quote

"The room is so clean with no evidence of belonging to anybody, but it has a secret history of thousand of people, their vibrations and essences soaked in the walls and rug." (12)

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