Alisak, Prany, and Noi—three orphans united by devastating loss—must do what is necessary to survive the wartorn landscape of 1960s Laos. When they take shelter in a bombed out field hospital, they meet a doctor dedicated to helping the wounded at all costs. Soon the teens are serving as motorcycle couriers, delicately navigating their bikes across the fields filled with unexploded bombs, beneath the indiscriminate barrage from the sky.
... a tightly integrated collection of six masterfully written stories ... Yoon’s perspective shifts nimbly from one teenager to another, catching the currents of delight, confusion or terror flitting through this 'orbit of chaos' ... We know, of course, how impossible that modest dream is for these three young friends working in the most dangerous spot on Earth. But Yoon’s narration is so closely pared, so free of excess drama that when violence rips through these lives, it feels especially shocking. In a sense, he’s re-created the psychological experience of battle: the weird interludes of happiness and boredom suddenly shattered by incomprehensible disorder ... Individually, the chapters exercise hypnotic intensity, but the overall effect is even more profound. With his panoramic vision of the displacements of war, Yoon reminds us of the people never considered or accounted for in the halls of power ... Yoon makes us care deeply about these adolescents and what happens to them. For all that he eventually reveals, some details are forever dropped between the shifting plates of survivors’ memories. That’s cruel, but like everything else here, entirely true to the lives of people scattered by war.
... richly layered ... simple explanations give way to deep nuance ... Throughout the novel, beauty and violence coexist in a universe that seems by turns cruel and wondrous ... Alisak is haunted by the loss of his friends and his homeland and the loose ends of his life, and from his story and that of the other characters, Yoon has stitched an intense meditation on the devastating nature of war and displacement.
There have been many great books about the Vietnam War, from many different perspectives...But I have never before read one I would describe as quiet and graceful ... Yoon’s artfully orchestrated narrative illuminates this loudest, harshest, most chaotic of situations with restraint and elegance, finding and tracing an emotional thread that weaves the story into the reader’s heart ... This unique work of historical fiction could not be more timely, or more timeless.