Her Own Vietnam, a novel by Lynn Kanter
Her Own Vietnam is a woman’s story of war and its personal costs, as well as a portrait of a woman in midlife—a mother, a nurse, and long ago a soldier.
For 30 years, Della Brown has tried to forget her service as a U.S. Army nurse treating horrific battlefield injuries in Vietnam. But now she’s received a letter from Charlene Johnson, a fellow combat nurse who was once her closest friend, and all the memories come flooding back: Della’s nightmarish introduction to the Twelfth Evacuation Hospital in Cu Chi, where every bed held a patient hideously wounded in ways never mentioned in nursing school. The day she learned how to tell young men they were about to die. The night her chopper pilot boyfriend failed to return from his mission.
When Della came home from Vietnam she was 22 years old, traumatized by horrors no one wanted her to speak about. Now in her 50s, she realizes that her war experience has colored her relationships with everyone in her life—her ex-husband, her daughter, her mother, her sister, even her sister’s girlfriend. As she struggles to make peace with the past, Della must confront the fissures in her family life, the mystery of her father’s disappearance, the things mothers and daughters cannot—maybe should not—know about one another, and the lifelong repercussions of a single mistake.
At the heart of the story is the friendship between Della and Charlene—one white, one black, both of them stamped forever by war. Readers see the two women during their harrowing tour of duty in 1969-1970, and again 30 years later, when they reunite at a moment fraught with the threat of a new war in Iraq and the weight of their own shared history.
Her Own Vietnam has won two literary awards: Silver, IndieFab Book of the Year (military fiction), and Silver, Military Writers Association of America (literary fiction). The novel was published in in 2014 by Shade Mountain Press, and released as an audiobook in August 2017.
Lynn Kanter is the author of the novels Her Own Vietnam, The Mayor of Heaven and On Lill Street. All of her novels explore the terrain of women’s friendships and the impact of public events on personal lives.
Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies Lost Orchard, Breaking Up is Hard to Do, and The Time of Our Lives, and the literary journal Verbsap. Her nonfiction has appeared in Referential Magazine and the anthologies Coming Out of Cancer, Testimonies, and Confronting Cancer, Constructing Change. She was a founding member of Virago Video, a women’s video production company, and wrote the award-winning documentary “Fighting for the Obvious.”
Lynn is a lifelong activist for social justice and has the T-shirts to prove it. She grew up in Chicago and now lives with her wife in Washington, DC, where she works as a writer for national progressive organizations.
Why Did I Write Her Own Vietnam?
I was a teenager during the Vietnam war era, and my youth was shaped by that war and the passionate movement to end it. The U.S. had a military draft then, so the burden and terror of war were shared more widely than they are today. I remember looking around my high school classroom at all the boys and feeling despair that the war would swallow them too. At the time, I never gave a thought to the women who were serving in Vietnam, if I even realized there were any.
It wasn’t until decades later that I began to wonder what it would be like to be a regular, middle-aged woman going about your daily life, but to have the Vietnam war experience—that ball of flames—burning away inside you. How would you feel? Who would you tell? Who could ever understand what you’d been through?
Her Own Vietnam is based on years of research and interviews with women Vietnam veterans. One of the most surprising details I learned was this: many of the women who served in Vietnam have never talked about it. To anyone.
“I don’t speak about Vietnam,” one woman told me, “and most people in my world don’t even know I’m a veteran. I prefer it that way.”
I felt compelled to tell this story, to throw the light of fiction on this neglected corner of our American history.