Daily Archives: January 19, 2019

Review: Courageous Women of the Vietnam War: Medics, Journalists, Survivors, and More

Vietnam is like a huge jigsaw puzzle where none of the pieces fit.

~ Ba Rose: My Years in Vietnam, 1968 – 1971

Courageous Women of the Vietnam War: Medics, Journalists, Survivors, and More*

From the publisher:

One of just a handful of women reporting on the Vietnam War, Kate Webb was captured by North Vietnamese troops and presumed dead—until she emerged from the jungle waving a piece of white parachute material after 23 days in captivity. Le Ly Hayslip enjoyed a peaceful early childhood in a Vietnamese farming village before war changed her life forever. Brutalized by all sides, she escaped to the United States, where she eventually founded two humanitarian organizations. Lynda Van Devanter was an idealistic young nurse in 1969 when a plane carrying her and 350 men landed in South Vietnam. Her harrowing experiences working in a combat zone hospital would later serve as inspiration for the TV series China Beach.

In these pages readers meet these and other brave women and girls who served in life-threatening roles as medics, journalists, resisters, and revolutionaries in the conflict in Vietnam. Author Kathryn J. Atwood presents a clear introduction to each of five chronological sections, guiding readers through the social and political turmoil that spanned two decades and the tenure of five US presidents. Each woman’s story unfolds in a suspenseful, engaging way, incorporating plentiful original source materials, quotes, and photographs. Resources for further study, source notes and a bibliography, and a helpful map and glossary round out this exploration of one of modern history’s most divisive wars, making it an invaluable addition to any student’s or history buff’s bookshelf.

This book by Kathryn Atwood is part of the Women of Action series from Chicago Review Press.

Although I was very young at the time, I remember the Vietnam war. But I have a child’s memory of that war. We never learned about it in school because it wasn’t quite history yet. Certainly, we knew all about it, right?

Well, perhaps. Perhaps not. As I said, my view of it is filtered, just as my view of Desert Storm will always be filtered through the lens of riding in an M577 tracked vehicle, a pair of headphones on my head, as we bounced up and over the berm between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. What was everyone else doing? I have no idea.

I may never fill in those gaps, but I was amazed at how much I learned about the Vietnam war. One of the things I appreciated about this book was how it was organized into five parts. Each part covered significant events taking place during those years with corresponding stories:

  • Part 1 1945-1956: Ho Chi Minh’s Revolution
    Women’s stories: Xuan Phuong and Geneviève de Galard
  • Part II 1957-1964: Ngo Dinh Diem’s Civil War
    Women’s Stories: Le Ly Hayslip and Bobbi Hovis
  • Part III 1965-1968: Lyndon B. Johnson’s American War
    Women’s stories: Kay Wilhelmy Bauer, Jurate Kazickas, and Iris Mary Roser
  • Part IV 1969-1970: Richard M. Nixon’s “Peace”
    Women’s stories: Anne Koch, Dang Thuy Tram, and Lynda Van Devanter
  • Part V 1971-1975: Endings and Beginnings
    Women’s stories: Kate Webb, Joan Baez, Tracy Wood, and Kim Phuc

Reading the history in parts, followed by each woman’s story, allowed me to really get a sense for not only the big picture but how these big events impacted the lives of everyday women, from all walks of life and all sides of the conflict.

The prose is, as always with Kathryn’s books, accessible and a pleasure to read. Technically this is a young adult nonfiction book, but it’s such a great resource for anyone: writer, student, teacher, homeschooler, historian. Like other books in the series, this one includes extensive notes, bibliography, and one of my favorite features: the Learn More section at the end of each woman’s story.

You can purchase the book at many online retailers or directly from the publisher.

* I received a review copy of this book from Chicago Review Press.

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