The Broken Country uses a violent incident that took place in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2012 as a springboard for examining the long-term cultural and psychological effects of the Vietnam War. To make sense of the shocking and baffling incident—in which a young homeless man born in Vietnam stabbed a number of white men purportedly in retribution for the war—Paisley Rekdal draws on a remarkable range of material and fashions it into a compelling account of the dislocations suffered by the Vietnamese and also by American-born veterans over the past decades. She interweaves a narrative about the crime with information collected in interviews, historical examination of the arrival of Vietnamese immigrants in the 1970s, a critique of portrayals of Vietnam in American popular culture, and discussions of the psychological consequences of trauma. This work allows us to better understand transgenerational and cultural trauma and advances our still complicated struggle to comprehend the war.
With subtlety and insight, with precision and passion, Paisley Rekdal explores the consequences of the Vietnam War for Vietnamese, Americans, and herself. The result is The Broken Country
, a moving and often gripping meditation on the fallout of war, from violence and racism to melancholy and trauma.
—Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Refugees
The Broken Country
is an audacious and extraordinary story of war’s endless effects. Paisley Rekdal unearths from the forgotten wreckage of one life a sweeping and necessary account of America, Vietnam, and the lives lived in their shadow. Assembling a remarkable range of materials and testimonies, she shows us both the persistence of war’s trauma and how we might more ethically imagine those it harms. She is the boundlessly sympathetic witness and clear-eyed investigator we need.
—Beth Loffreda, author of Losing Matt Shepard: Life and Politics in the Aftermath of Anti-Gay Murder
Paisley Rekdal depicts and examines the far-reaching human effects of the Vietnam War in this deeply affecting, disquieting book. She also interrogates and interprets, from many different perspectives and points of view, the war’s damaging, long-lasting legacy. In beautifully rendered though unsparingly descriptive prose, Rekdal examines the larger scope of this war, most especially, the sheer number of people—refugees, immigrants, and natives alike—who were, as a result, permanently wounded and/or psychologically maimed. In order to piece together this most compelling narrative/meditation, Rekdal becomes, by turns, a fully realized investigative journalist and interviewer; witness and researcher; commentator and cultural critic. I also appreciate that, in her role as the reader’s narrator and guide, she’s always a deeply concerned, passionately engaged, human being.
A compact, thoughtful debut addressing violence, immigrant identity, and the long shadow of the Vietnam War. . . . A poignant, relevant synthesis of cultural studies and true-crime drama.
This contemplative, moving meditation on the ongoing effects of war emphasizes stories of dislocation, transgenerational trauma, and the feelings of shame that permeate 'the narratives of both relocation and repatriation.' By drawing attention to the plight of all those harmed by the Vietnam War—not just American soldiers but also 'Asian allies and foes, the children we left behind, and the refugees we took in'—Rekdal deepens the understanding of the far-reaching cost of war.
Beyond past wars, the book also considers the plight and conditions of refugees, as well as the homeless. It is those layers of exploration that make The Broken Country
so compelling, its argument summarized in the book’s subtitle: On Trauma, A Crime, and the Continuing Legacy of Vietnam
. Rekdal explores trauma theory and narrative theory and brain science, as well as her own history as the daughter and niece of Vietnam-era veterans.
—Ellen Fagg Weist, Salt Lake Tribune