The conflict in Vietnam has been rewritten and reframed into many corners of American life and has long shadowed contemporary political science and foreign policy. The war and its aftermath have engendered award-winning films and books. It has held up a mirror to the twentieth century and to the wars of the twenty-first.
Set in wartime Vietnam and contemporary Vietnam, in wartime America and in America today, the stories that comprise Memorial Days were written from 1973 to the present. As our continuing reappraisals of the war’s shadow have unspooled over the last half-decade, so too has Wayne Karlin returned to the subject in his fiction, collected and published together here for the first time.
A girl in Maryland runs away from Civil War reenactors she imagines to be American soldiers in Vietnam, while a woman in Vietnam hides in the jungle from an American helicopter and another tries to bury the relics of the war. A man mourns a friend lost in Iraq while a helicopter crewman in Quang Tri loads the broken and dead into his aircraft. Extras playing soldiers in a war film in present-day Vietnam model themselves after other war films while a Marine in a war sees himself as a movie character. A snake coiled around the collective control of a helicopter in Vietnam uncoils in a soldier come home from Iraq. The chronology is the chronology of dreams or nightmares or triggered flashbacks: images and incidents triggering other images and incidents in a sequence that seems to make no sense—which is exactly the sense it makes.
Some stories burn with the fresh experiences of a Marine witnessing war firsthand. Some stories radiate a long-abiding grief. All the stories reflect and reconfigure the Vietnam War as it echoes into the present century, under the light of retrospection.
"Spanning half a century, these stories move backwards and forwards through time and space from wartime Vietnam to Vietnam and America today, revealing as they do the ways that old war and the new ones in the Middle East continue to rip at the soul of this country. . . . Karlin is the most neglected and overlooked writer of my generation. I dearly hope this collection will bring him some of the recognition he and his work so richly deserve."
—W. D. Ehrhart, author of From the Bark of the Daphne Tree
"With aching clarity, Memorial Days lets us see the ways wars have changed Vietnamese and Americans as well as our two countries. Wayne Karlin, as a firsthand witness of wars and a peace advocate, makes sure that the lessons we can learn from our past are never forgotten. This short story collection is a powerful call for world peace, a torch shining our way toward empathy, compassion, hope, and healing."
—Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, internationally best-selling author of The Mountains Sing and Dust Child
“This is one collection I’ve found endearing because as a reader I felt the pains of those in it, their nostalgia, their bubbling violence as a byproduct of the corrupted memories. I often wonder: if I were a soldier, could I keep my conscience at bay when I pulled the trigger? When I came home from the war, would the past keep haunting the present, the trauma of war never going away? Memorial Days is valuable to those like us who did not fight in the war(s), and yet it grants a reprieve to those who did and are plagued by their memories.”—Khanh Ha, author of Her: The Flame Tree
“For Wayne Karlin, every day is Memorial Day. An accomplished novelist, Karlin now brings us this extraordinary collection of short stories, spanning almost fifty years. As a Vietnam veteran writer, he remembers that war and the wars to follow, especially in Iraq, as a new generation of veterans returns. Haunted, he haunts us, a witness who transcends his own experience through the power of imagination. You will not read a more harrowing story this year than “The War on Terror,” dealing not only with the Iraq War but the war at home, the military mentality and the military hardware that increasingly dominate policing in this country. He evokes landscapes from Vietnam to Iraq to Southern Maryland, and the ghosts, living and dead, that wander those landscapes, with great clarity of voice and vision. Wayne Karlin has been telling the truth about war and what Wilfred Owen called “the pity of war” for half a century. The least the rest of us could do is listen.”
—Martín Espada, winner of the National Book Award for Floaters