After more than four decades, the Viet Nam War continues to haunt our national memory, culture, politics, and military actions. In this probing interdisciplinary study, Susan Lyn Eastman examines a range of cultural productions—from memorials and poetry to cinematic and fictional narratives—that have tried to grapple with the psychic afterlife of traumatic violence resulting from the ill-fated conflict in Southeast Asia.
Underpinning the book is the notion of “prosthetic memory,” which involves memories acquired by those with no direct experience of the war, such as readers and filmgoers. Prosthetic memories, Eastman argues, refuse to relegate the war to the forgotten past and challenge the authenticity of experience, thus ensuring its continued relevance to debates over America’s self-conception, specifically her coinage of the “New Vietnam Syndrome,” and the country’s role in world affairs when it comes to contemporary military interventions.
With the notable exception of the Veterans’ Memorial in Washington, Eastman’s focus is on works produced from the Persian Gulf War (1990–91) through the post-9/11 “War on Terror.” She looks not only at American representations of the war—from movies like Randall Wallace’s We Were Soldiers to poems by W. D. Ehrhart, Yusef Komunyakaa, and others—but also at novels by Vietnamese authors Bao Ninh and Huong Thu Duong. The experiences of women figure prominently in the book: Eastman devotes a chapter to the Vietnam Women’s Memorial and another to Sandie Frazier’s novel I Married Vietnam and Oliver Stone’s film Heaven and Earth, based on memoirs by Le Ly Hayslip. And by examining Jessica Hagedorn’s Dream Jungle, a novel inspired by the filming of Apocalypse Now, she considers how the war’s repercussions were felt in other countries, in this case the Philippines. Her investigation of Vietnamese American authors Lan Cao, Andrew Lam, and GB Tran adds a transnational dimension to the study.
With its up-to-date perspective on recent works that have heretofore received scant critical notice, this book offers new ways of thinking about one of the most polemic chapters in U.S. history.
SUSAN LYN EASTMAN teaches in the Department of English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
America’s Vietnam challenges the prevailing genealogy of Vietnam’s emergence in the American imagination—one that presupposes the Vietnam War as the starting point of meaningful Vietnamese-U.S. political and cultural involvements. Examining literature from as early as the 1820s, Marguerite Nguyen takes a comparative, long historical approach to interpreting constructions of Vietnam in American literature. She analyzes works in various genres published in English and Vietnamese by Monique Truong and Michael Herr as well as lesser-known writers such as John White, Harry Hervey, and Võ Phiến. The book’s cross-cultural prism spans Paris, Saigon, New York, and multiple oceans, and its departure from Cold War frames reveals rich cross-period connections.
America’s Vietnam recounts a mostly unexamined story of Southeast Asia’s lasting and varied influence on U.S. aesthetic and political concerns. Tracking Vietnam’s transition from an emergent nation in the nineteenth century to a French colony to a Vietnamese-American war zone, Nguyen demonstrates that how authors represent Vietnam is deeply entwined with the United States’ shifting role in the world. As America’s longstanding presence in Vietnam evolves, the literature it generates significantly revises our perceptions of war, race, and empire over time.
The Asian American Avant-Garde is the first book-length study that conceptualizes a long-neglected canon of early Asian American literature and art. Audrey Wu Clark traces a genealogy of counter-universalism in short fiction, poetry, novels, and art produced by writers and artists of Asian descent who were responding to their contemporary period of Asian exclusion in the United States, between the years 1882 and 1945.
Believing in the promise of an inclusive America, these avant-gardists critiqued racism as well as institutionalized art. Clark examines racial outsiders including Isamu Noguchi, Dong Kingman and Yun Gee to show how they engaged with modernist ideas, particularly cubism. She draws comparisons between writers such as Sui Sin Far and Carlos Bulosan with modernist luminaries like Stein, Eliot, Pound, and Proust.
Acknowledging the anachronism of the term “Asian American” with respect to these avant-gardists, Clark attempts to reconstruct it. The Asian American Avant-Garde explores the ways in which these artists and writers responded to their racialization and the Orientalism that took place in modernist writing.
Asian American plays provide an opportunity to think about how racial issues are engaged through theatrical performance physical contact, bodily labor, and fleshly desire as well as through the more standard elements of plot, setting, characterization, staging, music, and action.
Asian American Plays for a New Generation showcases seven exciting new plays that dramatize timely themes that are familiar to Asian Americans. The works variously address immigration, racism, stereotyping, identity, generational tensions, assimilation, and upward mobility as well as post-9/11 paranoia, racial isolation, and adoptee experiences.
Each of these works engages directly and actively with Asian American themes through performance to provide an important starting point for building relationships, raising political awareness, and creating active communities that can foster a sense of connection or even rally individuals to collective action.
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