No One Will Understand, No One Will Believe

Rosalie Morales Kearns

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re offering Lynn Kanter’s novel Her Own Vietnam (paperback) at 50% off and free shipping. The discount is available only on our website, where you can also read about the accolades for the book, including an Indiefab award for military fiction and praise from the national magazine of the Vietnam Veterans of America.

The protest movement against the Vietnam War was a formative influence on Lynn, who was a teenager at the time and went on to a lifetime of hell-raising for social justice causes. Just a couple of years ago, her Facebook profile picture showed her being arrested near the White House in a demonstration for immigrants’ rights. Is that bad-ass or what?

When Lynn decided to write a novel from the perspective of a U.S. Army nurse who’s stationed in Vietnam, she spent years doing research and conducting interviews with female veterans.

Reading the novel made me understand what should have been obvious: medical personnel in a war zone deal with horrific battlefield injuries all day every day, and they come home traumatized from it. Another eye-opener for me was learning that even when treatment for post-traumatic stress was eventually made available for Vietnam vets, the nurses weren’t eligible: they were told they couldn’t possibly have PTSD because they “hadn’t been in combat.”

And most fascinating to me as a feminist is that many of these women returned home and told no one at all about their time in Vietnam.

This was unwritten history. Like so much of women’s history.

As a fiction writer I was also intrigued by the choices Lynn made about how to portray her main character, Della. The novel moves back and forth between 1969-70 (Della’s deployment) and 2003, when the United States is on the brink of war with Iraq. We see Della as a naïve young nurse learning combat medicine on the fly. We see her just after she’s returned, an angry young woman who has the rest of her life ahead of her but is so disturbed by her experience that it’s easier to just drink rather than face her memories. And we also see her 30 years later.

It might have been the more obvious choice for an author to make the older Della embittered and dysfunctional, unable to lead a fulfilling life and having nothing but regrets. Instead, Della in middle age is well-adjusted and stable, a kind, likable person. But she still hasn’t really processed what she went through all those years ago.

And that’s what’s fascinating about Della. She’s like so many women who seem perfectly normal but have been through one hell or another, a hell they’re pressured to keep silent about because no one will understand, because no one will believe, because they themselves haven’t fully come to terms with what happened.

But sometimes the stories get told.

Rosalie Morales Kearns is the founder of Shade Mountain Press, author of the magic-realist story collection Virgins & Tricksters (Aqueous, 2012), and editor of the anthology The Female Complaint: Tales of Unruly Women (Shade Mountain Press, 2015).