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The Plain of Jars - a novel

" Whose ashes did you get? "

During the Vietnam War, the Plain of Jars, an area in northern Laos, was the site of the most protracted and extensive bombing of civilian targets in the history of warfare. The secret war in Laos was kept hidden from the American public and the rest of the world for 9 years. Of the 600 odd pilots that were shot down over Laos, only 10 ever returned, while the fate of half of them remain a mystery, fueling wild theories of still existing POW camps, and of downed airmen starting new lives in remote villages, never to be heard of again. Exacerbating the attempts to uncover the truth was the gross misidentification of hundreds of charred remains that had been officially returned to grieving families, leading to a deluge of exhumations, law suits, and subsequent scandal, forcing the closure of the Central Identification Laboratory in 1988.

What would you do if you found out twenty years later that the bones and ashes that you were given by the Air Force were not the remains of your loved one? Dorothy Kozeny, a 64 year old widow from a small town in Ohio, after getting no answers from the relevant authorities, decides the only thing to do is to go to Laos herself to search for the truth concerning her son's fate.

In 1990, accompanied by a trusted Laotian called Kampeng, Dorothy travels deep into the mountains of rural Laos, attempting to trace her son's path through inhospitable terrain, an unforgettable trek that provides her with a rewarding, often humorous, and at times frustrating, cross-cultural experience. All clues lead her to a mysterious figure, the Chao Baa, the Lord of the Forest, an American left over from the war who rides an elephant and clears mined areas, and whom she suspects was the CIA assassin who may be the only one who knows the truth.

The story, while it could be regarded as an entertaining action adventure, goes beyond a mere leisurely read. The novel makes an implicit comment on the immorality of the bombing campaign conducted by the USAF, yet exposes the misguided idealism of the communists as well. Throughout the novel, the plight of the simple peasants is earnestly portrayed, caught in the middle of a Cold War conflict of little relevance to their own daily lives. And while Part One shows how Laotian culture might appear to a casual traveler, such as Dorothy, Part Two, the Legend of the Chao Baa, reveals the inner workings of village society - the hopes, dreams, cultural norms, as well as the diverse Buddhist and Animist ceremonies that give the local populace the faith to get through the vagaries of life.

 

Reviews

 

I couldn't stop reading, and just finished your awesome work. If the mark of a great work is to inspire, educate, move and - above all - keep the reader reading from beginning to end, you are indeed a GREAT writer to this reader! I above all admire your craft, I was quite amazed how good your book just as a piece of writing, since that has not been my experience with most of the books I get sent. I read a lot of thrillers, and was amazed to see so many thriller-like elements like that in your book that kept me reading.

Fred Branfman
Huffington Post


Simply PLAIN amazing December 14, 2013
We've all heard of the saying 'Don't judge a book by it's cover'.....well for Plain of Jars I am saying, "don't judge a book by it's length". Don't take a look and see the over 600 pages and be intimidated. PLEASE. I promise that the pages will fly by without you even noticing, i promise that the story will have you so captivated that hours will pass in a matter of moments as you read, I promise that you will agree with me when you are done!
Dorothy Kozeny has received the ashes of her son from Vietnam and mourns her loss. She later learns that noooo....she was deceived, intentionally. And she makes the monumental decision to travel there on her own to find the truth.
Let the saga begin... Descriptions and details so real that you will feel her emotions, see the landscape thru her eyes, be sad, hold your breath, smile at the goodness in some people and be disgusted with others. And in the end,as it all comes together you will understand, exhale and simply say WOW!
If you choose to base your choice of read/ don't read on reviews, then eliminate any naysayers and trust the 5 star reviews!
I remember praying that the 'war' would be over before my older brother got drafted. I remember a Vietnam vet that i once cared for, that returned so damaged from what he lived and what he saw that he was incapable of normal emotions. I wish i could embrace each vet and thank them for what they gave up, and give them each the appreciation they never received. I wish there was NO Vietnam.....i wish i wish i wish..

Yankeelin, Amazon review

I loved this novel! I must admit that when I received it, I was a bit shocked at its size (660 pages). I thought, "Oh no, what have I gotten myself into?" But this author needed every one of those 660 pages to tell the story...
This novel was so well-written, the landscape and people of Laos so well-described and the characters so well-defined that I was truly captivated from the beginning...
The landscape of the Plain of Jars was so well described that I've spent lots of time looking at it on the internet...The reader will know that the author has spent much of his time in the area by the beautiful descriptions of the land and the different peoples of the country. The author makes it clear that there are many different cultures and languages in the area. The reader is treated to characters of the differing cultures and their peculiarities.
The Buddhist religion also plays a huge role in the novel. I found myself engrossed in the descriptions of the beliefs of the characters. The concept of Karma played out again and again, both supporting and rejecting the belief. Many of the precepts of that religion are seen through the lives of the characters. Many people of that area also have mythical/magical beliefs and those were also described through the lives of the characters.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If I were a college professor, I would consider using it as part of a class on the Vietnam war and it's cost to the many people of the region. While it is a novel about the war, it is, ultimately a novel of one woman's need to find answers about her son's death/disappearance during the war.

Kelly, Goodreads Review

This novel is excellently written with numerous twists, turns, and great historical lessons. From cover to cover, I was engaged with this book. Great character development and visual depictions. I was most impressed with how all separate characters and their stories tie together beautifully in the end. Although it's a longer read, I've never read a novel as quickly as I've read Plain of Jars. A week after I've read this book and it's still constantly on my mind.

Brandon Rith, Goodreads review

This is one of the excellent books that you take wherever you travel and read a bit more when you have a break. An historic background to a great story that may often sound a bit unbelievable, but having been around the military during the period of Nixon's secret War Against Laos, I realize it is all very true. This book is well worth the investment of time and offers a lot of insight into the military thinking during that period. Excellent read.

GregCV, Amazon Review

Based on historical facts, The Plain of Jars is an adventure story with a message still relevant today, a moving anti-war novel that exposes the secret and illegal war conducted for nine years against innocent peasants. Over all a really well-written, well researched, human interest story and a gripping read. There are some great characters and the dialogue is good. The key information is drip fed at just the right pace to keep the reader hooked. This is a well-written book with a compelling story. The author knows his subject well, producing a strong sense of pace on all fronts.

Marilyn, Goodreads Review

Quite entrancing. Can't hardly put it down! Far better than the recent novels I ordered from Amazon...it had me laughing and crying at the same time! Good work.

Tim Whitington
Pak Chong, Thailand

 

How the Book Came to be Written

 

 

In 1995, I traveled to the Lao People's Democratic Republic for the first time, with the intention of networking for future opportunities as a water resources consultant. I was shocked to learn about the Secret War, and when I traveled into a rural village area and met with children wounded by buried cluster bombs, I decided there and then that upon my return I would educate myself. I read over 100 books and articles about the history and culture of Laos, and of course about the war. Very few of the latter accounts had an anti-war perspective; rather, the majority were mainly military histories - glorified accounts of battles on the ground, and the heroism of the Forward Air controllers. I'm sure such a point of view could be justified, but who is going to tell the other side of the story, the plight of the villagers who had their lives bombed out from under them, and the munitions that persist to this day, still causing the deaths of the innocent?

Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world, with people celebrated for their passive and benevolent nature, but in spite of that, it also has the dubious distinction of being the most heavily bombed country in history. Yet no war was ever declared on Laos! The infiltration of the Ho Chi Minh trail by North Vietnamese troops in the central-southern border area with Vietnam, has often been cited as the rationale. But in the Plain of Jars, the objective was population removal, i.e. civilians and residential settlements were deliberately targeted to empty the Plain of Jars of all human (and non-human) habitation. I found it hard to accept that the US government could perpetrate such a cruel and barbaric policy.

Despite all that I read, with only a few exceptions that were written in the late 60's (e.g. Fred Branfman's Voices from the Plain of Jars), no one seemed to be telling this story. I decided that I would write a novel, an entertaining action adventure story that would educate as well, and that could reach a mainstream audience for general distribution. To make the story entertaining, and yet faithful to the historical context, required weaving a tale based on many factual events, such as the scandal at the Central Laboratory, the MIA scams, the development of the F-111(the protoype 'smart jet that spawned a new generation of high tech fighter planes), and the nature of the ground war. At the same time, an accurate and discerning picture of Laotian village life was also necessary to fill in the other side of the story.

F-111 fighter, top secret weapon developed during the Indochina War ;                       Akanee, the brave elephant that hunts for buried bombs

















The novel publication date is May 31 2013. click the link below to order from Amazon.

Order the novel



I also would appreciate any comments. You can email me at nick@plainofjars.net




Click below to download the first 3 chapters (requires Acrobat Reader)


The Plain of Jars, a novel by Nicholas Lombardi



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