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