Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Remembering Heaven's Face: A Story of Rescue in Wartime Vietnam Paperback – May 6, 2002
This month's Book With Buzz: "The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers "In a Dark, Dark Wood" and "The Woman in Cabin 10" comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel, "The Lying Game." See more
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
Remarkable . . . exceptionally well written and moving . . . Few other writers have evoked the physical world of South Vietnam as well as Balaban does in this book.(USA Today)
Unforgettably lyrical.(New Yorker)
About the Author
John Balaban is the author of eleven books of poetry and prose, including "Locusts at the Edge of Summer," winner of the 1998 William Carlos Williams Award, and the popular and critical success "Spring Essence: The Poetry of Ho Xuan Huong." His poetry, translations, and fiction have received wide acclaim, including two National Book Award nominations. He is Poet-in-Residence and professor of English at North Carolina State University.
Browse award-winning titles. See more
Top customer reviews
In 1967, John Balaban, then a graduate student at Harvard, sought to trade his student deferment for classification as a conscientious objector. When his draft board asked him whether he would agree to do his alternative service in Vietnam, he said yes. So from August 1967 to June 1969, Balaban served in Vietnam, first teaching English, and then working for COR (the Committee of Responsibility), arranging for seriously war-injured Vietnamese children to be brought to the United States for specialized medical treatment that was not available in Vietnam. In the first two chapters of the book Balaban writes about those two phases of his alternative service in Vietnam. In August 1971, Balaban returned to Vietnam with his wife on a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to collect whatever remnants he could find of the oral poetic tradition known as "ca dao"; his experiences during that trip comprise the third chapter of the book. The last chapter is devoted to his trip to Vietnam in 1989 to give an address on American literature to the Institute of Literature in Hanoi (the first American to address the Institute since World War II), and to try and locate several of the patients whom, as children twenty years earlier, he had been instrumental in securing advanced medical treatment in the United States.
Balaban had plenty of close calls: hunkered down through the Tet offensive around Can Tho in the Delta, at the end of which he was wounded by shrapnel; being roughed up by Saigon thugs; and being kidnapped by VC, and then, incredibly, being released, probably because he was deemed so naïve as to not pose a threat. He went places and saw things that few other Americans did. And he had the rare intellect and cultural sensitivity to put into context what he was seeing and equally uncommon language skills to describe it.
Balaban does not hide his political beliefs, but the book is not a leftist screed. It is more through the experiences he relates than through explicit statements that REMEMBERING HEAVEN'S FACE brings home that our adventure in Vietnam was an ignoble one, and that "no philosophy or ideology--least of all, crusading American democracy--could justify or even remotely explain the slaughter of those [Vietnamese] citizens."
The first of the four parts that make up the book deals with the author's involvement in the Tet Offensive, which just about ran over the city of Can Tho, where the author, a conscientious objector serving alternative service in Vietnam, had just been posted to teach. He is wounded at the end of the mayhem.
In the second part the author, now a field representative of the Committee of Responsibility to Save War-burned and War-injured Children (COR for short), is on a quixotic (and morally ambiguous) quest to bring a few of the many maimed Vietnamese children to the US for reconstructive treatment. Adversity, in the form of hostility of Americans to COR as well as Vietnamese bureaucratic inertia, conspire to make the experience a impossible as well as exhilarating task.
From this point of departure the memoir evolves into a tale of redemption, as the author, who has once more flown to Vietnam, journeys across the country in quest of ca dao - poems with "tight formal structures" that organize "the accidental musical tones of Vietnamese words into a natural melody line" sung by "Vietnamese living in the traditional rice-growing rhythm of the land" (pg. 249). Trying to snatch vestiges of millennial peasant culture from under a hail of bombs greater than all the tonnage dumped during WWII seems to me the only mindful task in the middle a mindless war.
The book ends on an elegiac note: in 1989 the author returns to Vietnam - first the North then the South - and reconnects both with the people and a handful of his former wards.
One should read this book for its contents - such as its history of hope against hope for a handful of maimed Vietnamese children, who were touched by the generosity of American citizens just as their country went about destroying 4 million lives in the name of its ideology.
One should read this book for the larger lessons - one of them is humanity's imperfections. There is no value judgment involved in the tale, or moralistic whiggish view (with a positive or negative sign of one's choosing). Rather one finds dispassionate observation, and anecdotal evidence that people may flip from positive to negative attitude (or vice-versa) at the drop of a photo (pg. 141). The author's brush with his own unfathomable violence, confessed in the middle part of the book, gives added stature to his reflections.
"Go out", one Vietnamese proverb says, "and see the sun's face, and the moon's. Go out, says another, and return with a basket full of wisdom" (pg. 334). At the end of the book one senses that the author's quest (and the reader's time) has not been in vain.
This book is not just poignant - it is also beautifully written. Vietnamese landscapes and life in the villages are vividly portrayed with short and intense brush strokes that aptly render the tropical confusion. One pauses to savor each detail - going back over the short sentences until a mental image emerges in all its noisy and colorful glory - and rotten smells. There is great artistry in such lines.