Inheriting the War: Poetry & Prose by Descendants of Vietnam Veterans and Refugees

Edited by Laren McClung. Norton, $19.95 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-393-35428-7

The physical and emotional aftereffects of the Vietnam War continue to ripple through families, as this comprehensive anthology shows, as the stories and traumas of those involved are passed down like genetic traits. The work includes both poetry and prose (with several category-defying pieces) and features such literary luminaries as Suzan-Lori Parks, Ocean Vuong, and Nick Flynn. Tom Bissell elucidates childhood with a veteran father: “At every meal Vietnam sat down, invisibly, with our families.” For poet Brandon Courtney, the specter was violent: “the same ashen hand/ that formed his fist/ that christened drywall,/ my mother’s lip.” In a stirring essay, poet Terrance Hayes describes meeting his biological father and learning of his grandfather’s actions during the war. Not all of the authors are descendants; Andrew X. Pham chillingly recounts his attempt to flee Saigon with his family as the city fell. Ben Quick’s informative essay on Agent Orange veers into the personal, explaining that the likely cause of his birth defect was his father’s exposure to the chemical. This penetrating and powerful collection brings together some of the most talented, haunted voices of those affected by the Vietnam War. [em](Nov.) [/em]