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For Rouenna: A Novel Hardcover – November 1, 2001

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (November 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374254303
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374254308
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,620,486 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When Nunez's unnamed narrator publishes her first book, she is flooded by letters, not only from fans and detractors, but from people she once knew, however glancingly. At the start of this piercing, sophisticated third novel by Nunez (A Feather on the Breath of God; Naked Sleeper), the narrator reluctantly agrees to lunch with one letter writer, Rouenna, and the two strike up an odd friendship. Rouenna, an ex-Vietnam nurse, has never gotten over the war. Though she does not suffer from the "combat fatigue" she disdains, she mourns the vibrancy that the temporal and physical space of war took on: "Hardest of all would be to explain why she had been so happy." Nunez's New York flaunts its multicultural glory, but even the city that shelters innumerable immigrant families and exiles from suburban America has no slot for Rouenna, whose wartime experience has rendered her incapable of everyday life. When Rouenna commits suicide (tellingly, with her father's heart medication), our narrator begins to recount her tale. The resulting fiction, which alternates between the narrator's memories of the Staten Island projects where the two women grew up, an account of the narrator's relationship with a Vietnam-era journalist, and the stories Rouenna told her about the war and its aftermath, is an exquisitely rendered mix of memory, guilt and unfinished business. The narrator's job is elegiac by nature, but the strength of this novel is its assertion of the danger of looking backwards. Nunez's insightful examination of the way collective cultural memory whitewashes the uncomfortable past is at once a memorialization of an era and a declaration of the insufficiency of memorials when the past remains very much a part of our present. (Nov. 12)Forecast: Scheduled to be published on Veteran's Day, this novel will benefit from handselling, its quiet message perhaps more powerful and unsettling than that of any number of more immediate war narratives.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Nunez's fourth novel, following the well-received Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury (LJ 4/15/98), a fictionalized biography of Leonard and Virginia Woolf's marmoset, sketches multiple stories: those of Rouenna Zycinski, a retired army nurse; her childhood friend, a writer as well as our narrator; and their coming of age in Staten Island, NY. After publishing her first book, the narrator receives letters, one of them from Rouenna, who is eager to renew ties and regales her with yarns about her year in Vietnam. Her escapades make the writer's own story of lost love, as well as their growing up, uninteresting. What's heartbreaking is that Rouenna considers that year abroad her life's high point, and in an attempt to recapture it, she asks her friend to collaborate with her on a memoir. A slow starter that is ultimately very satisfying, this deeply moral look at memory and friendship is recommended for any collection with intelligent and patient readers. Judith Kicinski, Sarah Lawrence Coll. Lib., Bronxville, NY
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Sigrid Nunez was born in New York City, the daughter of a German mother and a Chinese-Panamanian father, whose lives she drew on for part of her first novel, A FEATHER ON THE BREATH OF GOD (1995). She went on to write five more novels, including THE LAST OF HER KIND (2006) and, most recently, SALVATION CITY (2010). She is also the author of SEMPRE SUSAN: A MEMOIR OF SUSAN SONTAG (2011). Her honors include a Whiting Writers' Award, a Rome Prize, a Berlin Prize, and the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Learn more at

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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This novel juxtaposes the lives of narrator and subject in a manner that draws the reader deep into their lives. Although Vietnam is at the core of the story, the gut-wrenching sadness and horror of that experience is woven brilliantly into the stories of the lives of two women who are very different, yet who share a compassion for humanity that is rare and incredibly moving.The settings are created so vividly that it is hard to put this book down. For the first time in a long while,I am left with the urge to re-read very soon. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
FOR ROUENNA starts comfortably enough, with the narrator, a novelist, receiving a letter from a woman she barely remembers from childhood. This woman, the Rouenna of the title, pressures the narrator to visit her Brooklyn apartment so they can talk, though the narrator fears the intimacy of a face to face meeting. Eventually, though, they meet, becoming friends despite their differences. Their friendship has barely taken root when Rouenna commits suicide in her mother's house in New Jersey. As the narrator tries to come to terms with the loss, she finds herself writing about Rouenna - her difficult childhood in the projects of Staten Island, and, most compellingly, of her time in war-torn Vietnam as a military nurse. The story becomes a powerful, unsettling eulogy not only for Rouenna, but for the innocence America lost during those turbulent times.
This is not a typical Vietnam War novel. Page-wise, the war itself probably takes up no more than a third of the book. By structuring her novel this way, Nunez gives the war context, culturally, historically, and personally, so that its reach goes far beyond its era.
You should not miss reading this extraordinary novel.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Timothy J. Bazzett on September 26, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The title "For Rouenna" comes from the kind of inscription authors often write in the flyleaf of a book when asked for an autograph from a reader/fan. The title character, Rouenna Zycinski, was one of those readers, although she admits to the unnamed narrator that she is not really much of a reader. But Rouenna had remembered the narrator from their shared impoverished childhoods in "the projects" of Staten Island. The narrator had gone on to college and became a successful writer, the kind invited by colleges to be a visiting writer-in-residence. Rouenna had gone to nursing school, financed by the army, and then was thrust into the maelstrom that was the Vietnam war as a combat nurse.

Reading "For Rouenna" was like being sucked without warning into a whirlpool of events and emotions. It is one of those simply un-put-downable reads. It is also one of the most unique takes on the Vietnam war that I've ever read. And I've read a lot of books about that war - both fiction and memoirs. I know that there are probably a number of books out there from women who served in Nam, but I confess I haven't really read many. Until this book, this fictional treatment of what it might have been like - must have been like. Rouenna is an unforgettable heroine, and an unlikely one. But you quickly learn that the women were just as susceptible to PTSD and the effects of Agent Orange as the male combatants were, because Rouenna finds herself going through "the change" at the young age of 39 - a known effect of exposure to the poisonous dioxins of Orange. As they become reacquainted, she tells the narrator of the excitement and shared military experiences of Vietnam, and how it was probably the best year of her life.
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Format: Paperback
FOR ROUENNA reads like a long meditation on trying to truly understand another person. The humanity of everyday events, observations, and conversations shines through on every page. Its reflections on the Vietnam War and how one nurse experienced it present a perspective unlike that of any other book about that war. A luminous work!
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