Divine Fate by Audrey M. Insoft | Books in Review

Audrey M. Insoft lives with her husband and son in Westchester County, New York.  There’s no information in her book,   Divine Fate (Dog Ear, 304 pp., $19.95, paper), on her military experience, but she does tell us: “I met Sandy and Paul Pinkerton in September of 2000 when they facilitated the adoption of my son Alexander.”  Insoft goes on to tell the reader that her adoption of Alexander involved a trip to Vietnam. 

The true story that Insoft tells in this book is the result of hundreds of hours of interviews with the Pinkertons. “This is neither a war book nor an adoption book, ” the author writes. But I can see where a reader might think it is both. 

Insoft uses the first eighty pages or so to give us the back stories of both Paul and Sandy Pinkerton. We learn quite a bit about Paul’s Vietnam War tour of duty. He was in the 1 st Infantry Brigade, 5 th Infantry Division (Mechanized.)  His unit was Headquarters Company, of the 1 st Infantry Battalion, 61 st Infantry (Mechanized.)  He was a member of a 4.2 mortar platoon, and was stationed in an area called Leatherneck Square. That area included Con Thien, “a fire support base located so close to the Demilitarized Zone… that on a clear day you could see the North Vietnamese flag flapping in the breeze.” 

Paul Pinkerton was a Forward Observer (FO), which entailed calling in fire missions, providing the coordinates so that massive firepower could be brought to bear on the enemy.  Keep in mind that it was General William Westmoreland who promised that it would be massive firepower that would win the American war in Vietnam. Pinkerton’s job required him to carry the AN/PRC radio.
To me, the description of Paul Pinkerton’s tour of duty in Vietnam is the most powerful part of the book. The author’s interviews did a great job of getting the details.  Insoft’s writing is excellent and clear, but very dense and necessitates careful reading. The reasons that Pinkerton was compelled to adopt a Vietnamese child, and also felt the need to become an adoption facilitator, are spelled out in these pages. They are related to his reasons for his initial return to Vietnam to search for POW’s and MIA’s. This search and the adoption of the child Isaiah partially relieved Paul of the sins he’d committed during his war, sins he’d secretly believed he could never be absolved of.

Insoft also explores in detail the reasons for Sandy Pinkerton’s decision to go to Vietnam with her husband. Part of the reason for her going to Vietnam was that she suspected he had another family hidden away there. She discovered that he did not.

Insoft introduces the reader to Vietnam veterans who have such whacky ideas that I shook my head in disbelief.  One who planned to accompany Paul to Vietnam on one of the early trips was convinced that POWs were being held in a cave in downtown Danang and that he and other veterans could go in there with automatic weapons and liberate them.

Late in the book, an issue close to my heart arises. Paul Pinkerton is diagnosed with prostate cancer, which he is convinced (as am I) is due to his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. The man is still alive at the end of this book. No evidence is apparent that he sought care from the VA for his cancer. The Pinkertons moved to Florida so Paul could receive cancer treatment at the Dattoli Cancer Center.

I recommend this book to those who wish to read about the troubles and challenges facing those compelled to adopt Vietnamese children in the earlier days, including eye-opening details of how unhelpful some American officials could choose to be. Our tax dollars pay them, but it is made clear that this fact did not translate always to an effort to do the right thing for hard-working, sincere Americans desperately striving to right old wrongs.

I couldn’t help but think that the American official (called Mark in the book) was acting (or not acting) out of pure spitefulness, because America had lost our war with Vietnam.

The author’s website is audreyminsoft.com

—David Willson

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