Sunday, October 4, 2015

Orphans of the Secret War


Orphans of the Secret War SM

Orphans of the Secret War

Loved it! ~ Review by Karen Bennett

Orphans of the Secret War is a terrific story based on the author’s real life experiences, but written as a fictional book. Told from his point of view, he captures the hell he went through from growing up as a half-breed in a poor village in Thailand where the majority of the people didn’t embrace him because he was different. It’s written in such a way as to capture all the important moments of his life … whether it was sad, hopeful, or horrific. As a child of an American pilot named “Charlie” he was forced into adoption by his mother to give him what she thought would be a better life. Nearly two decades later he was able to locate his mother, but he never did find his father, so that part of his heritage is still missing. It may have taken some time, but in the end he was grateful.

Book Blurb:

To beat the traffic, rise above it, else you need a miracle…

Orphans of the Secret War is a witty, sad, entertaining book narrated by a young “loog-kruenk” boy. An Asian-American child born to a Thai mother and an absent American father. He writes about his growing-up years in a small Thai village during the Secret War that was waged in Laos by the US against the North Vietnamese. In scope and content, the novel is reminiscent of Tom Brown’s School Days and Huckleberry Finn, but with a broader world view of events. This is NOT a children’s book, however…

As an adjunct to the primary war the US engaged in a little publicized, tactical war against the North Vietnamese in Laos.  To help in this effort, Thailand allowed the US to station troops in a number of cities across Thailand, including Udon Thani, in the North. Like a good omen—the rich foreign soldiers came, bringing new economic opportunities to this deprived, neglected region of rural Isaan.

The author presents, in a simple and entertaining style, his recollections of the life and times of his family during the occupation of Tahaan Falaangs in Udon.  More broadly, Bruce portrays the effect of this American military base on the life of impoverished rice farmers in Northeast Thailand. He helps you understand how the presence of the base and the soldiers changed the culture and values of the entire region.  Most importantly, Bruce provides the reader with a visceral, empathetic portrait of what happened to the Isaan people once the air base closed and the soldiers returned home.  These post-conflict effects are seldom publicized, but they are very real and much longer lasting than the war itself.

Excerpt of “About Orphans of the Secret War”:

One nation’s lust gave rise to the “shadow economy” as it temporarily pacified another nation’s greed. To supply the popular demand, entertainment venues opened and were thronged with lonely Tahaan Falaang , and “bar-girls” willingly came in waves to provide their services.

Is it that people who are willing to sell their bodies have no dignity, no limits? Or is it the other way around–that the person willing to buy someone’s body–has no dignity, and no limits?

Before you come to any conclusions, allow me to tell you a short story…

I am a result of the Vietnam War, actually—the “Secret War” in Laos–a bastard son of an American soldier stationed in Udon Thani during the decades-long Indochina conflict…

My mother, a young woman at the time, embraced this chance to make money, and even dreamed of being married off to a rich Tahaan Falaang who would take her away from the misery of subsistence living—a poor rural Isaan woman’s fantasy that evaporated the moment the Americans packed up and went home.

Upon returning home, pregnant and abandoned, my mother hid her secret as long as she could, only to have it revealed through the noticeably different looking son born to her. He would never be confused with a typical  Isaan farmer. Undereducated Isaan villagers did everything possible to lift my mother onto the stage of disgrace. With mounting pressure to survive in these rural lands, my mother did what many women in the same situation did—dropped me off at an orphanage where I witnessed the darker side of “Thai-ness”—and where I quickly learned how to conform to the system.

It was a journey that shredded my spirit and buried me deep in despair. I had no choice but to reach out into the unknown, begging a comet to save me and praying to any invisible powers willing to listen to an orphan’s plea.

Fate took me there. But a miracle brought me out…

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Orphans of the Secret War

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