Friday, July 24, 2009

Theres so much you have to know

As part of Citizen Reader's Book Menage, I read Tom Bissell's The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam. Bissell addresses the first question I had about this book in the opening sentences of the book. Do we really need yet another book on Vietnam? Bissell says that he has grown up with the war because of how it changed and affected his father. Although the book centers on a trip to Vietnam that Bissell takes with his father, it is also a book with rich analysis of the war.

The analysis may be too much for some people. He spends pages and pages going over certain periods like the evacuation of Saigon, the Tet offensive and the My Lai massacre. I found that Bissell was remarkably even-handed. Although he leans left and his father constantly calls him my son, the communist, (depsite Bissell having written about the disastrous communist rule of Central Asia), he is just as prone to point out the wrongs of the Vietnamese as he is the wrongs of the United States in the war. He opposes the war, but he does not believe the North or the NLF were the good guys.

The sections of the book that deal with the father son relationship are touching and often sad. Bissell was hoping to find and understand the happy man who went to Vietnam, only to be replaced by a quiet withdrawn man. It seems that father and son become a little closer than they were before hand, but there is no great epiphany or reconciliation in the book. I was left hoping that when they got back to the United States, they managed to engage deeper, but it wasn't clear what would happen.

All in all, a very good book.


Citizen Reader said...

Great review, Tripp. I too was astounded at the detail and description of the historical parts of Bissell's narrative--I wish he would write more history books, too. I really think he is a supertalent.

The parts where he and his father briefly--and not too violently--butted heads were still the most interesting to me. I could completely sympathize with his father calling him a communist (even though he isn't) because my parents have called me that (even though I'm not). As always I was astounded by how different lives can be but still share common threads. Thank you for your part in the discussion, BTW--your comments always add so much.

Tripp said...

I agree that Bissell should write more straight history, I think he would bring a lot of verve to the subject.

Thanks for the compliment and thanks for the great menage!