After years of being misled by the U.S. government, Jessica Pearce Rotondi travels to Laos with the hope of finding answers for her family, but instead finds a country still reeling from a secret war and excavates trauma on a personal and national scale.
This story is exactly what I needed ... What We Inherit beautifully renders her family’s memories with the devastation of Laos throughout her personal pilgrimage, telling their stories to work through generations of loss and explore the obligation younger generations have to the narrative and mythos that bind and define their legacy. What is so brilliant about What We Inherit is Rotondi’s choice to preface her memoir with Lord Byron’s poem of 'Prometheus' as well as her prologue on the Pearce’s legacy of loss. Both the poem and the prologue have themes that run throughout ... Rotondi masterfully juxtaposes Bryon’s poem and her family’s prologue to emphasize how stories become ingrained in history and in our personal mythos ... I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the tension in Rotondi’s memoir, particularly the narrative of a white woman’s pilgrimage to an Asian country to find herself ... Rotondi’s privilege and American entitlement are not excusable, especially when her persistence for answers potentially put [her guide] Mr. Ped in danger. Rotondi does recognize that this behavior is inexcusable and throughout the memoir, she questions herself and her presence in Sepon. As she makes her way through Southeast Asia, she treats the people and culture with nothing but respect ... What We Inherit shows how we can learn from the past by sharing the stories of the dead.
Jessica Pearce Rotondi’s tragic family history has gifted her with one heck of a story to tell, a story she’d surely sacrifice if she could change the past ... Throughout, we see not only the tremendous emotional suffering of one family but also the eroding effects that the government’s multiple evasions, cover-ups and gaslighting have on their faith in their country. Rotondi’s strengths are her patience and journalistic curiosity as she meticulously traces several decades’ worth of family and government ephemera to tell the story of her uncle, her family and the POW-MIA movement after Vietnam. She is helped by a very quotable grandfather, but the book suffers from disjointed storytelling and a reliance on stilted cliches for expressing the most intimate and emotional aspects of the story. As readers, we want to love this family as she clearly does, but the players, even the author herself, never emerge as fully realized people. It’s as if it can’t entirely commit to being either a memoir or a political history ... But the true heart of this book lies in Rotondi’s quest to heal her family’s giant, open wound. And while the central mystery of what happened to Jack Pearce may never be solved completely, it’s clear that this book, published 48 years later, is the welcome end of the story.
In her powerful, heartbreaking, and gut-wrenching first book, Rotondi explains how in 2009, after her mother’s death, she found boxes of files, newspaper clippings, and declassified CIA reports regarding her Uncle Jack and the family’s search for him ... Ultimately, Rotondi shares letters that lead her and her best friend across Asia to continue the search her family began 30 years earlier.