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

Book Review: The Nam Legacy, by Carole Brungar

Available from selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_nam_legacyThe Nam Legacy is the second novel by Foxton-born author Carole Brungar, but it’s very different from her first, A Tide Too High.

While both have a love story at their heart, this book explores relationships in greater depth, with much of it centred around the Vietnam War. If you were a fan of the television series Love Child, you should enjoy The Nam Legacy, as it explores similar themes.

Set in the 1960s and 1970s in small town New Zealand, the book introduces us to Jack Coles, a farmer’s son with a promising rugby career ahead of him, and his fiancée, Evelyn (Evie) Hallet, a talented singer whose parents own a hotel.

Jack wants nothing more than to settle down with Evie and start a family, but after a talent scout hears her singing, her music career takes off and soon she moves to Auckland to make the most of the opportunities available to her. Jack starts to feel lost and restless, and after hearing tales his brother, Brian, tells of his life in the army, Jack decides he wants a taste of the action.

Evie is devastated when he tells her he’s going away, and more so when he is sent to Vietnam. They write, and Evie gets the chance to see Jack when she is sent to the war zone with two other girls to sing for the troops.

As a lead scout, Jack puts himself in danger every time he heads out on patrol, but he seems to lead a charmed life, until one day he arrives in a village that the Viet Cong have attacked. He saves the life of a badly injured young woman (Mai Linh) and from that moment on, their lives start to intertwine. Despite his love for Evie, Jack embarks on a risky affair with Mai Linh, and is conflicted even further when she tells him she is pregnant, and he is the father.

I won’t go into detail about what happens from this point on as I don’t want to spoil the plot, but I will say that just months after his daughter is born, Jack is injured in a battle with the VC and ends up in hospital, where he is given the news he is being sent home.
Once home, Jack tries to return to normal life on the farm, and he and Evie marry. But the demons that plagued him in Vietnam have followed him home and Jack’s behaviour starts spiraling out of control. Evie is at her wit’s end and doesn’t know what’s going on or what she can do to help her husband.

I can’t say much more without spoiling the ending of the book: to find out whether there is a happy ending or not, you had better get it!

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Nam Legacy
by Carole Brungar
Published by Carole Brungar
ISBN 9780473395209

Book Review: Dreaming the Enemy, by David Metzenthen

cv_dreaming_the_enemyAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

Dreaming the Enemy by David Metzenthen is a poignant novel, posing meaningful questions about the effects of war. Metzenthen’s ability to empathise with the suffering of his characters makes for a thoughtful story, which captures the pointlessness of the Vietnam War and its permanent imprint on the minds of those involved. This book is crafted with elegance – quite simply, everyone should read it.

Johnny Shoebridge was conscripted to fight in Vietnam, where he lost his two best mates and the better part of himself. Now, having returned to Australia, he is left with a build-up of smothered emotion and not enough words to convey it. As he attempts to clear his head, by driving to an unknown destination in the Australian countryside, Johnny finds himself kept company by an imaginary Viet Cong fighter, whom he names Khan. Despite their differences and bone-deep hatred, Johnny quickly finds that Khan is one of few with whom he can relate. Exposed to open hostility from some locals for being involved in the Vietnam War, Johnny meets Carly, another outsider frowned on by society. Damaged by her past, Carly too can understand Johnny in a way most others cannot, as he grapples to find the sweet side of himself he lost in the jungles of Vietnam.

Johnny is trapped: by his memories, society’s expectations, his lost friends whom he cannot let go of and Khan, who pursues him relentlessly. Ultimately, he is trapped within the depths of his own mind, but the question is: can he find his way out? Just because he is out of the jungle, does not mean he is out of the woods.

Metzenthen poignantly captures the ceaseless struggle our servicemen are exposed to long after they have left the battlefield. Some might suggest the book is difficult to keep up with as it flicks from past to present to imagination, however, this is in keeping with Johnny’s head and the confusion that follows him. This is a truly well-crafted novel which shines a harsh light on government accountability (or lack thereof), society’s quick-to-judge nature and most importantly, war’s inevitable scars. Metzenthen poses the reader some poignant questions, which will leave you thinking long after the last page.

This book is in a league of its own, making the Vietnam War accessible to younger readers. It is thoughtfully crafted and forces the reader to empathise with people whose problems are almost too significant to truly understand. Dreaming the Enemy is succinct, crafted and powerful – it is highly recommended!

Reviewed by Lydia Whyte
Provided as part of the A & U Ambassador Programme

Dreaming the Enemy
by David Metzenthen
Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781760112257