In April 1975, as Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese Army, John Bissell, a former Marine officer living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, was glued to his television. Struggling to save his marriage, raise his sons, and live with his memories of the war in Vietnam, Bissell found himself racked with anguish and horror as his country abandoned a cause for which so many of his friends had died.
Opening with a gripping account of the chaotic and brutal last month of the war, The Father of All Things is Tom Bissells powerful reckoning with the Vietnam War and its impact on his father, his country, and Vietnam itself. Through him we learn what it was like to grow up with a gruff but oddly tender veteran father who would wake his children in the middle of the night when the memories got too painful. Bissell also explores the many debates about the war, from whether it was winnable to Ho Chi Minhs motivations to why Americas leaders lied so often. Above all, he shows how the war has continued to influence American views on foreign policy more than thirty years later.
At the heart of this book is John and Tom Bissells unforgettable journey back to Vietnam. As they travel the country and talk to Vietnamese veterans, we relive the war as John Bissell experienced it, visit the site of his near-fatal wounding, and hear him explain how Vietnam shaped him and so many of his generation.
This is the first major book about the war by an author who grew up after the fall of Saigon. It is a fascinating, all-too-relevant work about the American characterand about war itself. It is also a wise and moving book about fathers, sons, and the universal desire to understand who our parents were before they became our parents.
The Father of All Things is an angry, heartfelt, deeply personal, sometimes darkly funny book that explores the war that shattered Bissell's father and in turn ruptured their family. Although occasionally overly-digressive, this is a powerful book that is likely to add value to those who are very familiar with the period, through reading about it, living through it, or both; and be especially enlightening to those who open its pages with little prior knowledge. (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Entertainment Weekly - Jennifer Reese
A terrific writer with an eccentric vocabulary and dark wit, Bissell Jr. lacks only a feel for the proper dimensions of the short, personal story he had to tell. B
The Los Angeles Times - Paul McLeary
Bissell's strength isn't in writing history, as his extended digressions on the war, although well-researched, show. At times these historical flights seem forced — a way, one suspects, to compensate for a lack of narrative; but as the book goes on, they serve a crucial purpose, intended or not ... The book, therefore, serves as an excellent thumbnail sketch of the major players and significant dates that define the conflict but have been ignored in popular retellings of the war. In this way, John Bissell's role in the great, impersonal sweep of history is placed in context .... As a travel writer, however, Tom Bissell is superb. His descriptions of today's Vietnam are breathtaking and deep, written with a novelist's flair for giving life to the inanimate and the obscure.
Seattle Times - Michael Upchurch
Bissell's powers of description, whether he's evoking ragged states of mind or the "lush green tunnels" of rural Vietnam's highway system, are vivid and commanding as well. But the book stands on its portrayal of John Bissell. "War is its own country," his son writes, "and creates its own citizens."
The triumph of The Father of All Things is in the way Bissell brings alive — with so much love and uncertainty — one of those citizens.
The New York Times Book Review
Haunting. . .emotionally powerful. . . Combines the virtues of distance and immediacy -- the cool perspective that comes from investigating a war that was pretty much over before the author was born and the searing immediacy of being raised by a troubled veteran of that lost war. . .Supple, complex and a relief from the most recent waves of books about Vietnam. . .Bissell brings a luminous prose style and, perhaps more important, a clear, fresh eye to events that many of us have allowed to slip into the infuriatingly painful past.
Starred Review. This humorous memoir, travelogue and accessible history—the author's most ambitious book—confirms Bissell's status as a rising star of American literature.
Starred Review. A penetrating look at the Vietnam conflict. . .Bissell delivers a riveting, you-are-there account of the fall of Saigon. . .Big picture politics take second place to the achingly personal in [this] heartfelt book.
A permanent contribution to the essential literature of America’s catastrophic misadventure in Vietnam. Bissell has brilliantly combined a deep portrait of his conflicted relationship with his warrior father, a fair-minded but shattering account of the war itself, and a vivid travelogue of present-day Vietnam. In every branch of this endeavor, the bravery of Bissell’s engagement, his intelligence, and his uncanny eye for the conclusive detail are on rich display. This is a triumphant piece of work.
In this touching, sometimes comic portrayal of a son’s struggles to understand and cope with a father’s dark experiences in Vietnam, Tom Bissell’s maturing talents are on full display. He shows that wars never end, not only for the warriors but also for their children.
Vietnam's history has been
one of repeated invasions and
maps). For the millennium up
to the early 10th century,
Vietnam was controlled by the
Chinese, until a final rebellion
in 938 led to Vietnam achieving
independence. Over the following
centuries it repelled a number
of Chinese invasion attempts,
including three during the Yuan
(Mongol) dynasty (1271-1368)
while also expanding its own
borders substantially south (map).
In the 19th century, the French
colonized Vietnam, bringing
with them the Catholic religion.
The few Vietnamese who held
positions of influence during
the this period were
almost exclusively converts to
Catholicism. During World War II...
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