We publish new stories and poems about the Vietnam War and healing from trauma by veterans Everett Cox and Steven Gunn.
Book review: “A Cloak of Good Fortune. A Cambodian Boy’s Journey From Paradise Through a Kingdom of Terror”, by Sieu Sean Do. San Francisco, Hibiscus Press, 2019
By Edward Tick
“This is too much! It seems like I just get over one crisis and another occurs. I need to piece my soul together.” So blurted author Sieu Sean Do’s mother after the family’s harrowing and narrow escape into Viet Nam from the Khmer Rouge genocide in their native Cambodia. Sieu Sean’s memoir of the family’s journey from an idyllic childhood in rural Cambodia through the hell of the Killing Fields is his work through witnessing and storytelling to piece his soul together.
Sieu’s narrative of the family’s long ordeal is largely straightforward. He was a child and teenager during these ordeals, so we see them through the innocent boy’s eyes. The narrative piles incident upon incident as challenges, crises, betrayals, disappointments, abandonments, starvation, crimes, executions, and accidental deaths cascade not only upon this family, but all of Cambodia. Yet the story takes us to Cambodian traditions and intimately into his large extended family that, miraculously, survived together. As he summarizes at the end, “Our elders taught us well that we need to survive not just alone, but together.” Thus, as readers we have close encounters not just with the horrors of genocide, but the intimacies of a traditional Cambodian family and many traditional practices and folk tales that surround and support the survivors in their ordeals.
Read the full text here
Book Review: John Zilcosky, “The Language of Trauma. War and Technology in Hoffmann, Freud, and Kafka”, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2021, 174 p.
By Stefano Bellin
The concept of trauma holds a prominent position both in the Humanities and in the Behavioural Sciences. It is simultaneously invoked in a variety of contexts and contested for its fuzziness, Western/Eurocentric pedigree, and sociocultural implications. Given the wide currency that the discourse of trauma has acquired, a study that investigates the roots of the concept and its connection to language, war, and technology is a very welcome addition to the scholarship on modernity. Indeed, as Michael Rothberg writes in the preface of The Future of Trauma Theory: Contemporary Literary and Cultural Criticism, “thinking genealogically about trauma is one essential means of opening it towards possible, alternative futures” (Rothberg 2013, xi). John Zilcosky’s The Language of Trauma is a brilliant case in point. The first, more noticeable, goal of the book is to shed light on the relationship between trauma and modernity. Zilcosky focuses on the experiences of war, bombing, and early railway journeys – three phenomena that bring to the fore the violence of modern warfare and bureaucratic-mechanised work. The study concentrates on Germanophone literature, taking E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Sandman, Sigmund Freud’s The Uncanny, and Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis as primary examples. These close readings allow Zilcosky to historicise trauma and dissect its aporias, in particular, the difficulty of having one’s trauma recognised – a difficulty that often generates a short circuit, a trauma that grows out of the very slipperiness of trauma and the indeterminacy of its epistemological and ontological status. The second, thought-provoking, goal of the book “is to connect this medical language of trauma with the language of scepticism in romanticism and modernism, specifically, through the two discourses’ obsession with inscrutability” (p. 6).
Read the full text here
Book Review: Illya Titko, “Blood Formula”, translated by Jeffrey Stephaniuk, Regina, Benchmark Press, 2021, 210 p.
By Gianluca Cinelli
Senior Lieutenant Illya Titko is a combat veteran from Kalush, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, Ukraine. He was drafted in September 2015, or rather, he volunteered for the mobilization that was underway. Mr. Titko writes his book from the perspective of a citizen-soldier, as a man who continued to maintain one foot firmly in the civilian world, even though his new environment was a war zone, and “war is when your entire world is turned upside down.”
Jeffrey Stephaniuk, the excellent translator of this book, introduces with these words the author (at p. 6), highlighting the perspective from which the whole story is told: that of a “citizen in arms”, a man who has answered the impellent call of duty when his country was in dire danger. Titko himself adds some remarks a few pages later:
It was not an easy task for me to write this book. It was a real inner struggle, for over a year, on whether I should write it or not. But I was pre-occupied with those past events, mulling that chaotic time over and over in my mind, conscious of the fact that it really wasn’t that long ago when I lived through them. There were nights when I couldn’t even sleep. I’d argue with myself: Should I or should I not write this book? I clearly understood that not only should I write this book, but it was necessary for this book be written. First, it was necessary so that everything I experienced would have its place and not become lost in the subsequent living of my everyday life. I needed to write this book so that those who hadn’t been there personally could know about these events. I wanted them to know what happened and how they happened to those involved, with the people, with the country, and of course all those individuals who resolved to walk this same path, namely soldiers defending their country. I realized that such a book would be necessary for children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, so that they would have access to first-hand accounts about these difficult and stormy days and nights in the history of our nation. (12)
Read the review here
Launch of new journal section: “Back to the light. Stories of healing from trauma”
War affects our world and lives, whether we are directly involved or not. Its effects are like those of a disease that spreads through the organism, weakening it and altering its relationship with the environment. War destroys communities, poisons associated life, and builds walls. And, which is worse, it plants rotten seeds from which bitter fruits will grow. One antidote to the spread of its malice is listening to the stories of those who have seen its very Gorgon’s face and suffered from its scorching touch.
The Close Encounters in War Journal inaugurates a new section called Back to the light. Stories of healing from trauma. It is entirely devoted to the stories of people who have experienced the war and learned how to cope with the burden of its traumatic memories. Sharing these stories means much to the authors both in terms of ethical commitment and psychological effort. They reveal something intimate that has been troubling them, a core of traumatic memories that haunt their lives. Nonetheless, they are eager to share their stories worldwide with a public of interested and empathic readers, who want to listen and know what war is about.
We are happy to launch this project with two contributions by Ukrainian refugee Olga Kornyushyna and American former infantryman Charles Collins. Olga tells about her traumatic encounter with war as a civilian who had to flee from Kyiv, bombed by the Russians in the present war. Charles tells how he went through four turns of deployment overseas and how he had to fight to heal the moral wounds that such experiences inflicted on him.
The editors of the CEIWJ would like to express their profound gratitude to the authors of these stories and invite all who have stories of healing from war trauma to share them with us and our readers. Veterans, families, friends, therapists, and healers are welcome to submit their contributions.
Our gratitude also goes to Ed Tick, who has generously accepted to embark on this endeavour as co-editor of the Back to the light project, and the members of the section-specific editorial board, Charles Aishi Blocher, Kate Dahlstedt, Nathan Graeser, Lawrence Markworth, Donald McCasland, Glen Miller, Roxy Runyan, and Floyd Striegel.
Back to the light. Stories of healing from trauma
November 12, 2022
Olga Kornyushyna, There Are No Atheists in the War Zone
November 19, 2022
Charles “Chuck” Collins, Coming Home Hard
April 11, 2023
Steven Gunn, A Disquieted Mind
Book launch: “Il ritorno del guerriero” by Edward Tick
Turin 5 May 2022, 6 pm; Cuneo 6 May 2022, 4.30 pm
American psychotherapist Edward Tick’s Warrior’s Return. Restoring the Soul after War (Sounds True, 2014) has been translated into Italian and published last March by Nerosubianco publisher with the title Il ritorno del guerriero. Guarire l’anima dopo la guerra.
The book will be launched on Thursday 5 May in Turin at 18:00. The Centre for Peace and Non-Violent Culture “Sereno Regis” will host the event. The author will join the event remotely to dialogue with the translators Gianluca Cinelli and Patrizia Piredda and answer the questions from the public.
The event can be attended remotely live on the host institution’s Youtube channel at https://www.youtube.com/c/serenoregistv.
The book will be launched again the following day (Friday 6 May) in Cuneo at 16:30. The event will be hosted by the Institute for the History of Italian Resistance in Cuneo (http://www.istitutoresistenzacuneo.it). The Italian translators and the publisher will be discussants.
Download the flyers here:
Book launch – Turin, 5 May, 18:00
Review: “Coming Home in Viet Nam”. Poems by Edward Tick
San Fernando, CA: Tia Chucha Press, 2021. 187 pages
Seeking the most powerful healing practices to address the invisible wounds of war, Dr. Ed Tick has led journeys to Viet Nam for veterans, survivors, activists and pilgrims for the past twenty years. This moving and revelatory collection documents the people, places and experiences on these journeys. It illuminates the soul-searching and healing that occurs when Vietnamese women and children and veterans of every faction of the “American War” gather together to share storytelling and ritual, grieving, reconciliation and atonement. These poems reveal war’s aftermath for Vietnamese and Americans alike and their return to peace, healing and belonging in the very land torn by war’s horrors.
Download and read the review of the book here
Two poems by Peter Yeomans
We publish here two poems about the war in Iraq by Peter Yeomans. Peter is a pioneering Veterans Administration psychologist with a successful methodology for treating moral injury.
Read the poems here
“Suicide monologue”. A testimony by Everett Cox
One steamy night, the summer of 1969, at Marble Mt. Air Base near Da Nang in Viet Nam, a rocket exploded near me and I died. There was screaming, explosions, dust, smoke, chaos; I had no torn flesh, no blood in the dust, but I died.
My flesh did not die but I had shattered. In death, I became a ghost. In life, a shadow. The ghost dominated the shadow. That domination has meant self-destructive behavior, an obsession with suicide and suicide attempts. Self destruction. Who, what is self? My body? My heart? My spirit? I had to destroy all that might be self. I had to destroy self completely, my complete self, even though there was no complete me.