Book Review: The Nam Shadow, by Carole Brungar

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

The Nam Shadow is the second book in a series by Carole Brungar, following on from The Nam Legacy.  You don’t need to have read the first one to enjoy this book.

Terry Edwards was living at home with his mother and younger siblings. It didn’t feel like home any more since his mother had taken in a lodger to make ends meet;  the lodger moving into his mother’s bedroom. The lodger, Vernon, was a decent enough chap, being the local bank manager, but living in the sleepout, Terry felt restless. His job at the local garage as a mechanic was okay but he was wanting a bit of excitement in his life. He joins up the NZ Army and leaves for Waiouru and basic training. His best mate Jack Cole also decides to join up.

The Vietnam War has been going for a while now and news filtering through the media gives the boys an idea of joining up to do their bit. Not realising how brutal war can be, the boys soon find out. Losing mates that joined up at the same time, seeing woman and children killed is not for the faint-hearted.  It leaves a lasting impression on the two boys. Nightmares follow after they come home with settling down harder than either of them thought.

Frankie Proctor is a photojournalist with The Wellington Daily. Given the soft jobs at the paper, Frankie soon becomes totally disillusioned continually reporting on community events. She wants to be given stories with a bit of meat in them, but those go to more experienced people (usually men) at the paper. Frankie was reading an article about the Vietnam War in the latest issue of Time magazine. American soldiers were arriving in Vietnam at the rate of 1,000 a day. Inspired, Frankie approaches her boss William Booth asking if she could be sent to Vietnam to cover the war for the paper. The answer was a flat no, so Frankie chucks in her job and take her chances over in Vietnam, with a few contacts from her former boss.

This is a brilliant story. The two main characters in the book meet through a chance encounter. Terry meets up with Frankie every chance he can. They become close friends and lovers.

I became extremely aware of the Vietnam war as a teenager when in my first job I worked for a New Zealand cement company which happened to have its offices on the 9th floor of the then AMP Building on the corner of Queen and Victoria Streets in Auckland’s CB, in the late 1960’s. The U.S consulate was on the 6th floor. Peace protesters were outside the AMP building, and we had to fight our way through them to go to work. We then got bomb threats, with the whole building having to be cleared out by the police and fire brigade. The most that was ever found was a petrol-soaked rag in a pot plant. As a teenager, it was quite exciting and certainly not like any other job any my peers had.

As an adult I happened to be in Wellington when the Government held the official welcome home to the Vietnam veterans recognising their service to the country. Ex-vets from other parts of the world came for the event.  It was extremely moving.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Nam Shadow
by Carole Brungar
Carole Brungar Publishing
ISBN 9780473450816

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