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Hardcover Black Virgin Mountain: A Return to Vietnam Book

ISBN: 038551221X

ISBN13: 9780385512213

Black Virgin Mountain: A Return to Vietnam

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Book Overview

In 1967 Larry Heinemann was sent to Vietnam as an ordinary soldier. It was the most horrific year of his life, truly altering him--and his family--forever. In his powerful memoir, Heinemann returns to... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Nui Ba Den...

... or "Black Virgin Mountain." "It was as if you placed Mount McKinley in the middle of Kansas." The lone mountain, rising unique from the plain has had a primordial pull on humankind's imagination long before the written word. Consider Kilimanjaro, Fujiyama, and to a lesser extent, one of the four cardinal points of the Navajo universe, Mt. Taylor, loaming 70 miles to the west of Albuquerque. So too in Tay Ninh province, in what was once called the "Parrot's Beak" section of Vietnam. Heinemann had been there for an entire year, with the 25th Infantry Division, "Tropic Lighting," back when... The mountain was a perennial source of danger, virtually always held by NVA / VC units, and only the imagination could ascend it. This book is the story, with many a diversion, of Heinemann's trip(s) back to Vietnam, culminating in finally climbing the mountain, in a country now, finally, at peace. Heinemann's prose is visceral; it is laced with the idioms of the war, that war. The "90th Repple Depple" has laid dormant in the memory of almost all Vietnam veterans, only to be suddenly awakened by this book - yeah, that is what we all called it - not particularly reflecting on the absurd manner the military would name units and areas, as though there were 89 others. His point of view on the war is unambiguous, and he clearly states it in loftier terms: "Even so, it seemed clear to us that the war was not simply a pointless waste, but egregiously and iniquitous. Though those were not the words we used..." And he immediately follows with the GI's lingo of the time. His anger at the American leadership of the time is unabated, with serious jabs at Johnson, Nixon, Westmoreland, McNamera, all in the manner of: "No less a person than Secretary of State Henry Kissinger stood on his hind legs at a press conference and asserted that there would be `many executions.'" (after the North Vietnamese took over the South). Like the 90th RD, it was refreshing to be reminded of the GI's attitude during the war: "In Vietnam, to be called a `John Wayne' was a flat-out insult." (p 8). Both Publisher's Weekly and Booklist got the year wrong. It was 1990, and not 1992 that Heinemann was invited back to Vietnam for a literary conference. (Which reviewer was plagiarizing from which?) It was at this conference that he underscored, without any sense of polemic, but only a very sad guffaw, yet another of America's strategic mistakes during the war: he had a conversation with Nguyen Lien, a professor of American literature at Hanoi University concerning which books about Vietnam the American soldiers had read before they came. Of course there were none, and in my own case, I remember only a hurried, disorganized one hour "block of instruction" in my entire training, entitled: "Why we are in Vietnam." By contrast, the Vietnamese read America's greatest writers to gain a better understanding of our mental framework. How many Americans would ever have dared asked the point Heineman

The Power of Revisitation

Although it did not garner national attention or give rise to any widespread outpourings of remembrance, this past April marked the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon. The most lasting impression we have - aside from that gleaming granite commemorative engraved with 58,000 plus names on the Washington Mall - seems to be the quintessential "bug-out" photo of a chopper on the roof of the American embassy, a too-long tether of people desperate to clamber aboard. As is often the case, the years have been kind to Vietnam annealing some of its sharpness, if not in the memories of the generation that served there, then at least in terms of the original stigma attached to it. Perhaps as a country we have mellowed enough to see that it had some unpleasant but necessary lessons to pass along. All wars do, though it is the young who must purchase that knowledge for us. But even with that, there remains the lasting stench of defeat, along with the awkward doling out and acceptance of blame by aging politicians, whenever the word 'Vietnam' is uttered. According to the record books, American soldiers were long gone by the time those frantic Vietnamese began queuing up for the last chopper out. But when it comes to war in general and Vietnam specifically, the records aren't always on mark. Which is why three decades later books like Heinemann's Black Virgin Mountain are still being written and read. We simply cannot get enough of the subject to affix it with a permanent, acceptable label and then hang it away like an out-of-fashion coat. The mountain of the title was the focal point of Heinemann's year in hell. He had already returned to the country a number of times in the 1990s, often in conjunction with writers' conferences, when he and another writer, Larry Rottmann, took the trip to what is known in Vietnam as Nui Ba Den. The text crackles with an anger that, by Heinemann's own admission, remains unabated despite the passing of thirty-seven years since his tour in `Nam. Having lost two brothers to those residual emotional conflicts that simmer long after the actual combat is over, he is brutally frank about his experiences ("Every human vitality is taken from you as if you'd been skinned; yanked out like you pull nails with a claw hammer; boiled off, the same as you would render a carcass at hog-killing") and his opinions concerning the conduct of the war. It is difficult to decide which leader bears the greater brunt of his scathing commentary - LBJ or William Westmoreland. Happily, the entire book does not focus solely on the author's lingering revulsion for the war. There are large travelogue segments, life slices of rich imagery showing how the Vietnamese have moved along with far less lingering acrimony than have we since the end of what they call the "American War." Included is a wonderful description of the French colonial era bureaucrat's home-turned-guest-house at which they stayed in Hanoi. Its exotic past (koi pond, louvered window

He was a soldier once and young

This is a wonderful combination of achingly-real men-at-war memoir and modern-day Vietnam travelogue -- written with unforgettable raw intensity. The author was one of three brothers to be drafted into the Vietnam War and is the only survivor, one having committed suicide after his return to the US and the other disappeared and presumed dead. Despite the tragedy of family losses, Heinemann writes clearheadedly about his youthful experience in the steaming jungle and then about his warm meetings with his former enemies while touring the country on multiple trips in more recent times. His distinctive voice made such an impact on me that immediately upon finishing the book, I ordered the audio version and am enjoying reliving the experience of Heineman telling his bittersweet stories. Highly recommended in both book and audio format.

Return to the Dark Side of a Life - and Back

Larry Heinemann has long been a legend among those of us who served in the Vietnam War. His award-winning novel 'Paco's Story' told the public about the Vietnam War as it was - bitter, cruel, humiliating, destructive and unwarranted. Now Heinemann brings yet another view of the atrocities of war in this memoir that references not only his war years, but also shares his responses to his return to Vietnam in 1990, this time with a different band of warriors - fellow writers of the Vietnam War who were invited to Hanoi to meet their Vietnamese counterparts. What he encountered during that and subsequent visits to the country he once viewed with disdain and tortured memories was a country of people who were full of forgiveness, providing Heinemann with a path toward healing. He even made the trek from Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the south, ending in a climb of the Vietnamese symbol of folk mythology - Black Virgin Mountain - where he recovered his sense of healing. Heinemann's writing is lucid and still retains the raw vigor of his previous works, but his writing is now more tempered with time. 'Since Vietnam, other wars have come our way, including Iraq and Afghanistan...and I don't know about you, but I have watched and been appalled by the horror-struck nonchalance with which we seem to enjoy them. We are fascinated and repelled simultaneously by the endless loop of televised imagery and skimpy narration, oiled with the patina of exaggerated patriotism that begins with the dusty, desert-bred bogeyman, travels clean through the bloody wrath of the Old Testament, and ends with those prickly little tingles in the scalp, the moistened eyes, and the grand old flag...But there remained, still, the itchy, undeniable sense of unfinished business...'. Heinemann's book is important. It speaks of healing while it still pleas for us to keep the watch for the opportunity to end the horrors of war. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, November 05

Most realistic depiction of Vietnam today

I went to Vietnam as a tourist in 2004 and I wish that I had read this book before the trip. We did visit Cu Chi and some war memorials, but it was mostly the spirit of the people that impressed me, as it did Heinemann. His memories of the war and his military service for a year there are very painful but have the ring of truth and experience. I have notified my tourist agency that they should put this book on a reading list for future tourists.
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