I wasn’t sure what to write about for today’s blog, then decided to do a book review. Earlier today, I finished reading this terrific book, In the Year of the Rabbit: A Novel by Terence Harkin. It’s published by Silkworm Books and was released in 2021.
***** ABOUT THE BOOK *****
Cameraman Brendan Leary survived the ambush of the Big Buddha Bicycle Race—but Tukada, his star-crossed lover, did not. Leary returns to combat, flying night operations over the mountains of Laos, too numb to notice that Pawnsiri, one of his adult-school students, is courting him. When his gunship is shot down, he survives again, hiking out of the jungle with Harley Baker, the guitar-playing door gunner he loves and hates. Leary is discharged but remains in Thailand, ordaining as a Buddhist monk and embarking on a pilgrimage through the wastelands of Laos, haunted by what Thais call pii tai hong—the restless, unhappy ghosts of his doomed crewmates.
In the Year of the Rabbit, a story of healing and redemption, honors three groups missing from accounts of the Vietnam War—the air commandos who risked death flying night after night over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the active-duty airmen who risked prison by joining the GI antiwar movement, and the people of neutral Laos, whose lives and country were devastated.
***** REVIEW *****
There were many things I enjoyed about the book: The characters, the setting, and especially the information about Buddhist traditions and the life of the monks. It was also a peek into a part of the war in Laos that not many history books cover in detail.
While told as fiction, there’s enough factual information about the war, monastic life for Buddhist monks, as well as daily life for the people of Thailand and Laos, that In The Year of The Rabbit could be a textbook in a high school or college history program. And maybe it should be.
An additional benefit of reading the book for me was learning some of the meditation techniques that help calm a mind whirling with demands and tasks and thoughts that just won’t stop sometimes. And I appreciated so much the reminders of the basic precepts of the Buddhist religion that anyone can live by:
- Refrain from taking life. Not killing any living being. …
- Refrain from taking what is not given. Not stealing from anyone.
- Refrain from the misuse of the senses. Not having too much sensual pleasure. …
- Refrain from wrong speech. …
- Refrain from intoxicants that cloud the mind.
These precepts are explained in more detail in the book, as well as some of the others that the monks live by, and throughout it all the message is one of kindness, peace, respect, and service to others. That’s a message that is close to my heart and my way of walking through this world we all share.
Finally, this is an engaging story that kept me wanting to read just one more page, and then another, and another. Brendan is a likeable character, and I suspect that there is a lot of the author in that man. When I finished the book, I went back to read the prologue, which is written as a poem, and it had so much more meaning.
***** ABOUT THE AUTHOR *****
Terence A. Harkin was awarded the 2020 Silver Medal in Literary Fiction from the Military Writers Society of America for his debut novel, The Big Buddha Bicycle Race. During the Vietnam War he served with the “Rat Pack,” the USAF photo unit operating out of Ubon, Thailand, before going on to a long career as a Hollywood cameraman (M*A*S*H, From Here to Eternity, Seinfeld). He has returned often to Thailand and Laos.