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Originally published Friday, December 23, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Book Review

"The Time In Between": Probing the demons of war within one family

"It was Americans who invaded Vietnam. It was not our desire to fight," a Vietnamese writer tells Ada Boatman in David Bergen's novel...

Special to The Seattle Times

"The Time In Between"
by David Bergen
Random House, 237 pp., $23.95

"It was Americans who invaded Vietnam. It was not our desire to fight," a Vietnamese writer tells Ada Boatman in David Bergen's novel "The Time in Between." The remark hurts, since she and her younger brother, Jon, have come searching for their father, who disappeared a month after he returned to this corner of Southeast Asia. It is 1997.

Twenty-eight years earlier, Charles Boatman, then 18, had also served in a war he had no desire to fight. After his tour of duty and after his wife died in a motorcycle accident, he moved from Monroe (Snohomish County) to Canada, raising his three children in British Columbia. But for almost three decades, he has been haunted by a military mission gone wrong and a secret error in judgment.

As award-winning Winnipeg novelist Bergen shows in this quiet narrative that interweaves Charles' quest to make peace with his past with his grown children's struggle to find him, war's traumas can survive long after the fighting ends.

Because Bergen spent more than three years living and teaching in Thailand and Vietnam, his portrait of contemporary Southeast Asia, its people and the expatriate community feels assured.

And his picture of a middle-age father unable to endure the bad dreams, guilt and depression of post-traumatic stress disorder forms a poignant contrast to Ada and Jon, for whom Vietnam, both exotic and damaged, holds no terrible memories. Indeed, both fall in love there.

"This country does strange things to people," a missionary tells Jon. Bergen's characters prove the comment correct. Charles imagined that coming back would allow him to understand what happened, but he learned only that Vietnam was no longer the same place.

Appropriately, his translator, Thanh, offers two insights, saying, "First, everyone you meet will promise you things that they cannot give, and second, do not let this country defeat you."

His deceptively simple words are keys to a culture Americans have great difficulty comprehending.

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