Here are a few questions that I hope will help get the discussion going when your book group reads Her Own Vietnam.
Discussion Questions for Book Groups
1) In what ways, if any, did the novel make you reconsider your own understanding of the Vietnam war and its impact on America? If you lived through the Vietnam war era or served in the military, did reading the book stir memories of your own experiences? Did it make you see any of them through a different light?
2) How do you think things might have changed for Della and Charlene if they had talked about their war experiences with other people in their lives? What might they have gained or lost by talking about it?
3) How has the culture changed in terms of what kinds of stories, memories or feelings people share? Do we know more about the lives of veterans, particularly women, and the lifelong impact of war than we did when Della returned home from Vietnam? If so, has that knowledge changed anything?
4) How do you think Della’s renewed friendship with Charlene will fare? Are the intense experiences they shared in their youth a strong enough bond to overcome the differences in their lives and the years of separation? Have you had friendships that survived years of dormancy?
5) What roles do you think gender, race and class play in the novel? In the characters’ lives? How might these dynamics have a different impact today than they did in 1969 and 2003, the two time periods when the novel takes place?
6) How has the war and its damage affected the lives of the various characters? What about the characters who didn’t experience the war first-hand: Ruth? Rosalind? Anne?
7) What do you think about Della’s advice to her sister that “Men don’t last”? How does the book deal with relationships between women? Between women and men? Does it resonate with your own experiences?
8) What did you think about the quotation at the very beginning of the novel? Did you understand that statement differently after reading the novel?
9) What role do you think secrecy plays in the novel? What kinds of things do the characters keep from one another? From themselves?
10) What do you think is the meaning of the title? Could it be interpreted in various ways?
What did your book group talk about?
Did your book group come up with some great discussion topics about Her Own Vietnam? Please share! I’ll post some of them here. Email me at Lynn@lynnkanter.com.
For Further Reading
Bartimus, Fawcett, et al. War Torn: Stories of War from the Women Reporters who Covered Vietnam. Random House, 2002.
Emerson, Gloria. Winners and Losers: Battles, Retreats, Gains, Losses and Ruins from a Long War. Random House, 1972.
Marshall, Kathryn. In the Combat Zone. Penguin Books, 1988.
McPherson, Myra. Long Time Passing: Vietnam and the Haunted Generation. Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1984.
Norman, Elizabeth. Women at War: The Story of Fifty Military Nurses who Served in Vietnam. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990.
Palmer, Laura. Shrapnel in the Heart: Letters and Remembrances from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Vintage Books, a division of Random House, 1988.
Powell, Mary Reynolds. A World of Hurt: Between Innocence and Arrogance in Vietnam. Greenleaf Enterprises, 2000.
Smith, Winnie. American Daughter Gone to War: On the Front Lines with an Army Nurse in Vietnam. William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1992.
Van Devanter, Lynda. Home Before Morning: The Story of an Army Nurse in Vietnam. Beaufort Books, 1983.
Walker, Keith. A Piece of My Heart: The Stories of Twenty-Six American Women who Served in Vietnam. Presidio Press, 1985.
Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation – http://www.vietnamwomensmemorial.org
The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University – http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/exhibits/nurses/
Women in Vietnam – http://www.illyria.com/vnwomen.html
Women in Wartime: A Nurse Remembers –http://vvmf.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/women-in-wartime-a-nurse-remembers/