The Plain of Jars - a novel
" Whose ashes are in the coffin? "
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.
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 F111(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.
The novel publication date is May 31 2013. click the link below to order from Amazon.
I also would appreciate any comments. You can email me at email@example.com
Here are a few by ordinary readers:
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.
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.
Pak Chong, Thailand
Click below to download the first 3 chapters (requires Acrobat Reader)
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