Clutch your soul in one hand.
…now both; and you crash to the ground;
knees shatter onto wet pavement…
You wish you could sink beneath the ground;
to be swallowed up into the agony that consumes your mind…
Head swimming and throat drowning in its own splitting shrieks, your face eventually hardens just like the s a l t t r a c k s on your tear-strewn face.
Eventually, you will give in to sleep; in the morning waking to wash the away the hurt and begin anew. One day you move on from the sorrow just like everyone else.
Time heals all hearts.
But what if you…
What if it’s not even your heart that is broken? What happens when your very being – your soul – is smashed into a million tiny fragments like an ax splitting wood? What if every day you went through the same ritual and mourning but nothing ever resolved? When it comes to life, there is something precious that cannot be held in our clutched hands or drained from our eyes. Innocent life ripped from its peaceful existence by the devastation of murder and nameless killing…war…?
…It all feels so senseless and fragmented…
There are no chapters. There is no beginning…no end. There is no line fine between fiction and non-fiction. At this point, even the new memories blend and mix with the old ones until you don’t know what’s real anymore. When it’s life or death, everything changes. Forever.
Murder changes a person; murder is changing all of us. Right. Now…
Like Kien, I also find writing to be the default medium for releasing a difficult past trapped within. Although he is able to express some of his confusion and chaos by reliving his memories publicly on the page, Kien’s life will never be what it was before. The horror of war seared a permanent brand on his very existence.
Just as marijuana numbs the pain and the erotic canina flowers in the forest of Kien’s dreams helped them to forget the place they were in, he employs writing as one might apply a powerful ointment to a throbbing wound. Being able to write something down; to categorize and to organize it, can sometimes help to sort out the blurred visions of our most tormented memories.
It would seem that the author, Bao Nihn, is the true main character of this book. While he tries to disconnect himself from the actions and events that replay in his mind concerning the war, as you continue to read on in the endless recollections he is dripping out, you begin to feel like you’re intruding on someone’s personal thoughts and space. The reflection pool that Kien is continually wading in seems to be an endless and ageless sea of despair, confusion, and loneliness. Although he walks on in search of a resolution to the suffering, deep down he knows he will wade forever. Something as devastating as war – the un-willful taking of the life of another – is not something you can easily forget.
Like mortar bombs and hidden contact mines, Kien’s consciousness and even resting times are laden with the sorrows of war. Due to the countless atrocities he committed and witnessed, Kien suffers from what a lot of mental health professionals refer to as “post-traumatic stress disorder.” There seems to be a name and title for everything now days. These kinds of things can be studied and measured. They are expected. According to many medical minds, it might be best to simply medicate Kien and other veterans until they are comfortably numb. Label them as insane and treat them as if they are mentally handicapped so we don’t have to actually deal with them. This seems to be the common thought-bubble attributed to the dull, unthinking American public.
Yes, it is true that we are not all like this and we do not all think this way. Sometimes people can educate themselves into understanding and compassion through the simple exploration of a single case-study. At first and yet, still – I find it very difficult to get through Nihn’s “novel of North Vietnam.” There are no markers to trace the passing of time and progress throughout the book. Reading the short and choppy fragments of his thoughts and woes feels a bit like dragging your feet through a thigh-deep swamp of thick mud water.
Coming to realize that Kien’s story is not cliched is what gets me through each page and paragraph. This novel is not just a novel for North Vietnam, but a novel for any war in any time. The sorrows of war sink into every corner of our societies and weigh us down with the realities of murder and loss. It is important for Kien to absolve himself from as much as possible by talking about his experience and sharing his beaten and broken young soul with us. Perhaps by coming out into the open and shedding some light on the harsh facts of an over-glorified concept (war) we can all begin to heal alongside Kien and others like him.
Talking about the things that hurt us and joining in the exchange of conversation with others who are hurting is one very important and viable way we might initiate an overall mindset shift in the way we are allowing the current 10-year oil war in the Middle East to carry on unhindered.
No individual truly wants war. No one who has experienced the deep sorrows of war first hand would ever wish it on someone else regardless of who that person was or what they may had done to someone. When we look back on the very recent past and hear the weeping accounts of all the suffering that is still fresh in so many hearts, how can we continue on in such a blind and destructive path? Although many great resources are available to self-educate and bring awareness of these emotional human issues, I guess it’s just easier to remain ignorant of them.
Suggested Accessories for this Posting:
Bao Nihn ‘s The Sorrow of War : a Novel of North Vietnam
An Online Article by The British Medical Journal , “The Invention of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ”
Barbara Sonneborn ‘s Intimate Documentary Film Regret to Inform