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Wandering Souls: Journeys with the Dead and the Living in Viet Nam Paperback – March 26, 2013

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Nation Books; Reprint edition (March 26, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568587422
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568587424
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,536,010 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


The expiation and atonement are cathartic, and the story illustrates one method to put to rest the demons that followed many soldiers home. It is clear that Karlin has a passion for the subject to match his skill as a writer.
--The Roanoke Times

A mesmerizing, beautifully rendered work of nonfiction...
a one-of-a-kind Vietnam War story...It is a book not soon forgotten.
--The Veteran-Magazine of the Vietnam Veterans of America

"A surprisingly moving account of a Vietnam War veteran who returned to face the family of the man he killed.... Despite the reconciliation, the book is a poignant reminder of the war's sad consequences for both sides." -- Kirkus Reviews

"Wandering Souls is an important, moving, utterly compelling, and wonderfully open-hearted book, one that will become a touchstone in America's literature about the aftershocks of our terrible misadventure in Vietnam. This is a book that will endure. Decades from now, it will help people see and feel the ongoing consequences of war's murderous folly." -- Tim O'Brien, author of The Things They Carry

"Wandering Souls strips away the heroic mythology used to mask the depravity and anguish of war...It reminds us that once we descend into the stygian world of killing there is never any escape. The book is a plea for redemption and forgiveness. It is a plea for empathy. And it is a plea to look at war not as it is sold to us by the entertainment industry and the war-makers, but as it is experienced by those who fight and die." --Chris Hedges, author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

"Wandering Souls proves again Wayne Karlin's talent in discovering the beauty of the human soul in the ruins of war and loss." -- Le Minh Khue, author of The Stars, The Earth, The River

"In Wandering Souls, Wayne Karlin speaks our common language of sorrow and pain and reconciliation. His book is sure to find its readers in the two countries he loves." --Ho Anh Thai, author of Behind the Red Mist --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Wayne Karlin is the author of numerous books, including "Lost Armies," "The Wished-For Country," and "Rumors and Stones." In 2005, he received an Excellence in the Arts Award from the Vietnam Veterans of America. Karlin lives in Maryland, where he teaches at the College of Southern Maryland.

More About the Author

Wayne Karlin has published seven novels: Marble Mountain, The Wished-For Country, Prisoners, Lost Armies, The Extras, Us, and Crossover, and three works of creative non-fiction: Rumors and Stones, War Movies, and Wandering Souls: Journeys with the Dead and the Living in Viet Nam. While he is perhaps best known for his books about the aftermath of the Vietnam War, he has also written a historical novel set in 17th Century Maryland, a spy novel centered in Eastern Europe and another novel set in the Middle East. His writing career began after service as a Marine in the Vietnam War when he became an editor of Curbstone Press and co-edited the first anthology of veterans' fiction from the war: Free Fire Zone: Short Stories by Vietnam Veterans. More recently, as American editor for Curbstone's Voices from Vietnam series, he has edited and adapted translations of writers from Vietnam, including (with Le Minh Khue and Truong Vu), The Other Side of Heaven: Postwar Fiction by Vietnamese and American Writers, which was listed as a Critics' Choice for 1995-1996, and (with Ho Anh Thai) Love After War: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam, an anthology chosen by The San Francisco Chronicle as one of the 100 best books of 2003. Karlin was one of the script writers and a consultant for the film Song of the Stork, a Vietnamese-Singaporean co-production which has won the Best Feature Film title at the Milano Film Festival, was the first Asian film chosen in the Official Selection of the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily, Italy and was in the Official Selection of the Reflection of Our Time category of the Montreal Film Festival and has been shown in other festivals in Belgium, Canada and Thailand. He was the consulting producer and writer for a six part National Public Radio radio series on the aftermath of the Vietnam war. Karlin has received five State of Maryland Individual Artist Awards in Fiction, two Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Paterson Prize in Fiction for 1999 (with Barbara Kingsolver), and the Vietnam Veterans of American Excellence in Arts Award in 2005. A Professor of Languages and Literature at the College of Southern Maryland, Karlin is married to Ohnmar Thein Karlin, and has one son, the travel writer Adam Karlin.

Customer Reviews

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Books like this should be required reading in schools.
nyien chan
To read this book is to help understand the horrors of war, the sadness of physical and psychological pain, and...the beauty of man's spiritual nature.
Joseph R. Calamia
Wayne Karlin has crafted a terrific book in telling Homer Steedly's tragic, heroic, inspiring and ultimately rich human story.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Tom Lacombe on October 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
As an infantry soldier in Vietnam, I had an experience similar to Homer's, and the story of reconciliation drew me. But, the book gave me much more. Wayne Karlin delved into the postwar lives of the combatants, and their families. Through these stories I found myself gaining a better understanding of things I had been dealing with for years. It was kind of reassuring knowing that I wasn't the "Lone Ranger". I think reading "Wandering Souls" will give folks a better idea of what combat soldiers deal with long after the nations involved declare a war over.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Michael Archer on October 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I cannot recall being moved more deeply by a book than I was while reading Wandering Souls. Wayne Karlin's beautifully crafted account of compassion, grace and forgiveness is made even more amazing in the knowledge that a despairing Homer Steedly somewhow found his way to Karlin -- the one person whose sublime understanding and enormous talent could fully capture the essence of that experience. I have no doubt that this honest and enlightening book will soon rank among the most highly regarded works in the literature of the Vietnam War.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
was Homer Steedley's mission as he helped bring the body of Hoang Ngoc Dam, back to his home village outside of Hanoi, almost 40 years after he had killed Dam in battle. Wayne Karlin's masterfully-written book is a complete picture of two young men from opposite parts of the world who meet one fateful day in Vietnam. Steedley, the son of a WW2 soldier and a German war bride, was raised in South Carolina as a farm boy. He joined the army at the height of the Vietnam War and was sent, as a 2nd Lt, to an infantry unit north of Saigon. Steedley saw brutality in battle and in the everyday life of a soldier in Vietnam. He served for a little over a year, and one fateful, and fatal, day, he met a young soldier - a medic - from the north, named Hoang Ngoc Dam. Dam, also the son and grandson of soldiers and raised as a farmer, had left his village and his large family to fight against the Americans. After five years in uniform, he was shot by Steedley as they abruptly encountered each other in the field.

After Steedley shot Dam, he took documents from his body - a notebook, some papers of identification, and other things - and instead of turning them over to US army intelligence, he sent them home to his mother, who kept them wrapped in paper in her attic. Dam's body was recovered by his fellow soldiers and buried in a mass grave with about 20 other soldiers. His family was notified of his death, but they were unable to recover his body for reburial in his home village.

Thirty five years passed and Homer Steedley returned to the US, and like many Vietnam veterans, fell into an uneasy peace. He had some problems and lived by himself, becoming a computer whiz in the early days of the computer age.
Read more ›
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By D. Guenther on November 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I just finished reading Wayne Karlin's remarkable book, "Wandering Souls: Journeys With the Dead and the Living in Viet Nam." Without a doubt, given the broad reach and emotional depth of this book, one that appeals to all veterans from both sides who served there, it is perhaps the finest memoir of the Vietnam War that I have ever read. This book will stand the test of time and become a classic. Thanks to Wayne Karlin for writing it. I was particularly moved by the passage where the author illuminates the writer's need to confirm what happened the way he remembered it, the obligation being to validate our anecdotes and memories without turning those experiences into more acceptable myths, or nostalgia for a falsely idealized past. Wayne Karlin has made our understanding of that war, and what we all went through, more complete through telling the powerful story of Hoang Ngoc Dam's death and of Homer Steedly's redemption. An amazing book! Captain Dan Guenther, USMC
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wayne Karlin has written a much needed book whose central topic is reconciliation among people who once viewed each others as enemies. The act of reconciliation is personified by the lives of two individuals, former First Lieutenant Homer Steedly, Jr. and a former medical corpsman in the North Vietnamese Army, Hoang Ngoc Dam. They met for only fleeting seconds on a trail high on the hill overlooking the Mang Yang pass, in Vietnam's Central Highlands. Both men reacted instinctively, both men tried to kill the other; Steedly was "quicker on the draw." Steedly took the young medic's diary, and after a review by S-2 (Intelligence), he sent it to his mother in South Carolina, who kept it in the attic for decades, where Steedly eventually rediscovered it. In the intervening decades Steedly was haunted by the face of "The Man I Killed," and Karlin knows his history, and authors connected with the Vietnam War, so he references this story with the same name in Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried Karlin also references another classic account of the Vietnam War, written by Neil Sheehan (A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (Modern Library), but does not reference the section in which Sheehan says that the face-to-face killing of a soldier on the other side rarely happened. By far, the number of deaths during the war, combatants, and civilians, were attributed to "impersonal" killing at a distance, by bombing, and shelling.Read more ›
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