Perhaps the most moving novel I’ve read, the Sorrow of War (Amazon) inspired this latest podcast, which discusses the perils of holding on the past.
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My move to Vietnam makes the Vietnam War even more incomprehensible and senseless than ever.
The Sorrow of War is not a book about politics. It is a book about lost youth and lost love.
The experience of Vietnamese vets was not much different from that of American soldiers: “There had been no trumpets for the victorious soldiers, no drums, no music…. The general population just didn’t care about them. Nor did the authorities.”
“The divine war has rewarded him for all his suffering and losses with more suffering and loss at home.”
Soldiers tried rebuilding their lives, some with success where as others ended their lives in gutters. “I’ve given up driving. Now alcohol drives me,” one post-war vet observed.
The Sorrow of War is also a book about the dangers of holding onto the past.
“The sorrow of war inside a soldier’s heart was in a strange way similar to the sorrow of love. It was a kind of nostalgia, like the immense sadness of a world at dusk. It was a sadness, a missing, a pain which could send one soaring back into the past.”
“We’re prisoners to our shared memories of wonderful times together. Those memories won’t release us.”
The author was never able to start a new life, as he was too busy trying to relive his old one.
The past does not exist.
When you try reliving memories of your youth, you learn a painful lesson, as the author who returned to his childhood home learned: “It was not that Hanoi itself had changed – though yes, there has been changes – but he had changed. He had wanted to wind the clock back to his teenage days and relive those memories.”
It’s not the place you want to return to, it’s the you you want to return to – the young, naive, perhaps more intelligent or energetic or optimistic you.
Or maybe you want to feel self-pity, and so you return to past memories of trauma, abuse or failure.
That you is dead.
We are not moving through time. Time is moving through us.
Memories are movies.
You can sit in a theatre seeking entertainment for hours a day.
Or you can start living your own life, which means living in the present moment.
The choice, as always, is yours.