I grew up during the Vietnam War. Veins stuck out of people’s neck when they argued, and sometimes those peaceful demonstrators with flowers in their hair seemed the angriest of them all. My high school pep rallies often turned into peace rallies. Instead of cheering, we’d sing “All We Are Saying Is Give Peace a Chance.” The evening news brought a series of maps and battles, punctuated by body bags and a never ending stream of angry protesters. I often wished I were a child of the fifties instead of the sixties, wearing bobby socks and white skirts with pink poodles on them. I gave my childhood to the Vietnam War, I sometimes lamented to myself.
Then one day when I was in my early twenties, I was walking through Washington Square Park, wearing my favorite blue cotton dress with the pinched waist. Under the arch sat a burly, wheel-chaired veteran. My clicking heels accentuated his uncovered leg stumps. Flashes from the TV screen flooded back. A village in flames. A soldier weeping. My face flushed with humiliation. I had given up nothing.
Writing All the Broken Pieces was like listening and jotting things down, or sitting at a loom and weaving together the frayed, forgotten strands of history. Hoping to create something worthwhile, something like a healing quilt.
Maybe that’s the best of what historical fiction does. Recreate a moment in history so that in remembering, we might find a way to heal the wounds.
Ann Burg is the author of All The Broken Pieces, a young adult novel about a boy who was airlifted out of Vietnam.