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If you would like to engage Elaine and Bruce in your book club or classroom discussion, we would be delighted to join your group in person, or via Skype, if our schedule is compatible with yours. Please send us an e-mail at [email protected] Be sure to include your phone number.
Questions for Discussion:
1. Why do you think the authors chose to use alternating voices? Is it an effective way to tell this story? Does it enhance or detract from the ease of reading the book?
2. In Chapter 13, Brotherhood, Bruce suggests that “Although warfare reflects mankind at its worse, it sometimes brings out the best in men in the form of teamwork, cohesion, unity and a durable kinship — the soldier’s bond, forged in training and tempered in combat.” Discuss this dichotomy. Can you think of other examples?
3. Bruce alludes to his feelings of being betrayed by the politicians who sent him, and countless other young Americans, to war in Vietnam. He initially thought he was fighting for just and noble reasons, but later felt duped when he concluded that this was not about saving innocent people from Communism but was for more nefarious purposes. Do you think that young veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have similar feelings?
4. There are several very intimate stories of Vietnamese suffering in the book (Ha Thi Quy, Le Ly, Annie, Duc, Uncle Bao and Binh). Which story impacted you the most and why?
5. Early in the book, Elaine expresses caution about going to Asia because she fears illness. Ultimately she does become ill while in Vietnam. Do you think it was prescience, coincidence or karma?
6. Both Bruce and Elaine write that Vietnam has changed them irrevocably. How do you think Bruce is different after his two tours there as a young man? Is there also an evident change in his outlook after his return forty years later?
7. Elaine describes herself and Bruce has having “hazy retirement plans” and being “just regular middle-class folks” (page 177). Do you think Elaine’s values, worldview and personal desires or aims shifted after being in Vietnam? How?
8. How were your personal views, and/or assumptions, about war and its aftermath challenged by reading this book?
9. Did reading Back to Vietnam interest you in traveling to Vietnam? What intrigued you about the place or culture? Conversely, why would you not travel to Vietnam?
10. Parts of the book are unspeakably sad, while other stories are humorous. Which parts were the most moving to you? Why?