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The title "For Rouenna" comes from the kind of inscription authors often write in the flyleaf of a book when asked for an autograph from a reader/fan. The title character, Rouenna Zycinski, was one of those readers, although she admits to the unnamed narrator that she is not really much of a reader. But Rouenna had remembered the narrator from their shared impoverished childhoods in "the projects" of Staten Island. The narrator had gone on to college and became a successful writer, the kind invited by colleges to be a visiting writer-in-residence. Rouenna had gone to nursing school, financed by the army, and then was thrust into the maelstrom that was the Vietnam war as a combat nurse.
Reading "For Rouenna" was like being sucked without warning into a whirlpool of events and emotions. It is one of those simply un-put-downable reads. It is also one of the most unique takes on the Vietnam war that I've ever read. And I've read a lot of books about that war - both fiction and memoirs. I know that there are probably a number of books out there from women who served in Nam, but I confess I haven't really read many. Until this book, this fictional treatment of what it might have been like - must have been like. Rouenna is an unforgettable heroine, and an unlikely one. But you quickly learn that the women were just as susceptible to PTSD and the effects of Agent Orange as the male combatants were, because Rouenna finds herself going through "the change" at the young age of 39 - a known effect of exposure to the poisonous dioxins of Orange. As they become reacquainted, she tells the narrator of the excitement and shared military experiences of Vietnam, and how it was probably the best year of her life. Women were a much-desired commodity and in short supply in Vietnam, so Rouenna had made the most of it.
There are plenty of flashbacks and stories of Vietnam, but the frame of the story is thirty years later and Rouenna is fifty-ish and fat, an obese size 18, living alone, and knowing she'll probably stay alone, this after years of easy pick-up sex and always thinking that one day she'd be married and have kids.
Here's the thing. I'm a guy, and this is a book about women, about friendships between women. And yet it simply pulled me along at a nearly breakneck pace, with a narrative that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and shakes you. And shakes your preconceived notions of what it's like to be a woman too. Here's this red-faced, solitary obese woman who most people wouldn't give a second look on the street, and yet she's got this amazing and compelling story, which finally gets told - too late - by our unnamed narrator. For some reason I thought of the closing lines from another favorite book, Mark Harris's classic baseball novel, Bang the Drum Slowly, in which the narrator, Henry 'Author' Wiggen, says of his late friend Bruce, "From here on I rag no one."
Rouenna was a person who mattered. Read this book. - Tim Bazzett, author of SOLDIER BOY: AT PLAY IN THE ASA and BOOKLOVER
Sigrid Nunez paints a no-holds-barred picture of the experience and impact of the Vietnam War on an army nurse. It is not an anti-war novel, per se, but one cannot read stories such as this without a survey of conscience ... and weeping,
This was my first Sigrid Nunez and it led me to read several more of hers. An acquaintance of hers was a nurse in Vietnam. The friend wants her to co-author a book about her experiences. The protagonist says no. The friend commits suicide (this is not a spoiler, it comes up early in the book) and our narrator is drawn into telling her story for her. With every Sigrid Nunez I read, I'm convinced these are real people and it's Sigrid Nunez talking. But they all have that feel. She's just a very good writer.
This is one of the best Vietnam war books I have read. Very graphic. Told from a war nurse's point of view. I don't know why this book isn't mentioned in lists of Vietnam war books. It should be. It's a very good read.
Like Rouenna, I am a Vietnam Vet. I was a grunt. I will be grateful all my days that I never got wounded and never got to experience that part of the war. But we all knew that, if they got you off of the battlefield alive you had a 98% chance of getting back to the world alive. So we knew that the medevac pilots would try to get us out and the doctors and nurses would try to save us if they could. It was comforting knowledge. The most amazing thing about this book is that it could be so true and yet be written by someone who wasn't there. The insanity, the intensity, the loneliness of coming back to a world that hardly noticed you were gone and really, truly, doesn't want to hear about it: it's all true. This wasn't the way my war went but it feels true.
A fascinating memoir as novel as memoir, a story of nurses in Vietnam bookended by the author's own story of growing up on Staten Island. Having flunked my draft physical, I did not serve in Vietnam myself, but knew far too many who did. No nurses, though. Lots of grunts and officers. Family and friends alike. Having read fifty or more books on or relating to that terrible war, it takes something different to draw a response from me. This is such a book. Beautiful, spare prose. Poetic, lyrical, yet earthy in its depictions. And so very honest, from all I have heard from those who were there. Very highly recommended. If you are a Boomer and came of age in the Sixties or early Seventies, you will find immense amounts of nostalgia here as well. I really loved it.