Mark Pomeroy lives in Portland, Oregon, with his family. He was born in 1969, so he steered clear of service in the Vietnam War—but he was affected by it. The Brightwood Stillness (Oregon State University, 280 pp., paperback) is his first novel.
The book explores the legacy of the Vietnam War through the travails of two main characters: Nate Davis, who is on a quest to discover what happened to his uncle, a Vietnam veteran drifting around Asia since the war, and Hieu Nguyen, who fled the war with his family and came to the United State.
Nate and Hieu are good friends; they both teach at the same high school. Hieu’s crisis is that two of his female students have brought charges of sexual misconduct against him.
The book is set in 1996, so I guess it can be categorized as American historical fiction. This is one of those literary novels in which most of the main characters have secrets, refuse to speak their minds, and hold back vital information. Many misunderstandings take place.
We find out that Hieu, for example, had fought with the VC in his younger days. And that Nate travels around the world looking for his uncle only to learn that he had been hiding in the family cabin a short distance away from home.
When Nate’s uncle and Hieu confront each other late in the book, the uncle indulges in the usual trope about how ARVN troops were worthless. While the uncle is expressing contempt for the ARVN, all I could think of was that Hieu had been VC, not ARVN. Come on, Hieu, blow that bigot out of the water by telling him you were fighting for the ARVN’s enemy. But that doesn’t happen and Hieu’s secret is kept.
That incident brought me close to throwing the book against the wall in frustration. On the other hand, Hieu’s silence is consistent with the rest of the book. So not only were the ARVNs “cowardly, ” but I guess the VC were, too.
Pomery does a good job letting the reader know about the problems that Vietnamese refugees faced when they came to the United States: the stereotyping, name-calling, and difficulties in getting jobs and holding on to them due to cultural differences.
He has done a lot of research to produce this book, and uses what he found well. There, for instance, is the Coconut Monk, a hero of the Vietnam War who tried to set up a refuge from the war on an island. That only lasted so long, of course.
I recommend this book to those who love to read literary novels dealing with the Vietnam War. The characters are well-developed and believable, if difficult to empathize with due to their own stubbornness. I guess that makes them all the more human.
The author’s website is http://mpomeroy.com