Yesterday afternoon, I did a reading/book signing from Last of the Annamese for a group of seniors. As so often happens when I read from Annamese, I choked up and had to blink away tears at several points in the story. Why does my own writing move me so deeply? Because the book is really my story. It’s an autobiographical novel, historically accurate and as complete as I could make it. I put the protagonist, Chuck Griffin, through the travails I suffered myself during my years in Vietnam and the fall of Saigon. And those events, especially the deaths of so many people I knew, are still and always will be a cause of grieving for me.
As I always do when I’m reading or doing a presentation, I stopped for a moment here and there and listened. Dead silence. I looked up. Every eye was on me. The audience was with me.
As time goes on, I’m finding that my preferred audience for readings and presentations is seniors. Granted, I’m a senior myself, but more important, these are people who have lived through the tragedies that life inflicts on us. They know what it is to lose someone they love. They have faced life and death.
Younger audiences, especially millennials, react very differently to my stories. They are curious, especially about what happened in Vietnam and why the U.S. lost the war. They wonder what being a veteran is like since almost none of them ever served. The losses I write about move them less because they haven’t experienced anything comparable. Loss is, for so many of them, an aspect of life they haven’t yet faced.
In the same way, most of the reviews of Last of the Annamese have been positive, some glowing. The only one that wasn’t was written by a graduate student. He simply hadn’t lived enough to understand the book.
When I finished my reading yesterday, as so often happens, people came up to talk to me. They told me of their own experiences. If the interlocutor was a woman, she most often talked about her relatives who went to war. If it was a man, he related to me his military service experience. That’s another difference in dealing with seniors—nearly all the men are veterans and nearly all women had fathers, husbands, brothers, even sons, who had served in the military.
So I share with these people an understanding of war, the pride that comes from serving and the pain that combat inflicts. The bond between me and them is instant. These people are my brothers and sisters.