Reviewed by Joy
The Stearns family have been prosperous ranchers for generations. To them, Carson Valley, Nevada, is a fertile paradise. For the most part, Pete and Sarah Stearns accept the deaths in their community as a natural facet of life. Their son Mike is an exception. Mike was a tragedy. Mike was in the Vietnam War.
INDRA’S NET has four main sections: introduction to Carson Valley and the Stearns family, Pete’s war, Mike’s war, and after Mike. The entire book gives the impression that author Moses Ludel is basing the story on memories. They are full of detail, but with enough distance that we rarely have the feeling of being there. This was in the past, the author seems to say. We grew from it, but that was then. It isn’t now.
In the first section, the narrative jumps from one Stearns family vignette to another with no warning, over a period of a couple of centuries. After you’ve gotten used to the unexpected shifts of time and characters, the overall effect is like those patchwork quilts our great-grandmothers used to make, where every patch was a nostalgic reminder. We learn to know Pete and Sarah and their children as firmly planted in Carson Valley, contented and peaceful, with generations of soil about their roots.
Then we drop back in time to Pete’s war, and onto a straight narrative timeline where it is much easier for the reader to concentrate. Pete is fighting on the Pacific front of World War II. Officer and sharpshooter, with good defensive instincts in the field, Pete is ordered to give military training to a new group of allies against the Japanese: the Viet Minh. Pete comes to admire their dedicated idealism, especially in the two agents who accompany him on a dangerous rescue mission. From the beautiful, intelligent Doctor Nguyen Thi Dinh and their skilled driver Tao, Pete learns how the French colonials drove the native people in slavery to their deaths, to make their French masters rich. He sees the wide support the Viet Minh have among the starving population. He sees the determination of Ho Chi Minh and his group to take care of their people and rid them of any foreign government. We meet many likeable, admirable people in both groups as we read about Pete’s war.
Then we switch to Mike’s war. Author Ludel doesn’t show us any likeable, admirable people here. He shows us terrorism and extermination on both sides. He also gives us the history of how US-Vietnamese relations developed after World War II. In his recital of US policy changes, the US emerges the villain. The policy of the Ho Chi Minh government remains, as always, to free Vietnam completely from all foreign governments. Where they have changed has been to adopt a terrorist strategy.
Although Ludel avoids mention of the terrible Vietnamese War finale, it is not his purpose to praise one side and condemn the other. After Mike’s war is over, Pete’s friend Doctor Dinh is still alive and so is her idealism. Here is where the title INDRA’S NET comes into play. Indra’s Net is the name of the Buddhist symbol for the idea that all beings are connected. Doctor Dinh’s family and the Stearns family represent the healing of a painful rent in a universal wholeness.
The US fought Communism anywhere on the globe because of the announced Soviet intention of taking over the world. If, as Ludel says – without stating why he is sure of it – Communist North Vietnam wanted to be as free of influence from Communist Russia, as it did from France or Japan or China or the US, the entire bloody Vietnam War was fought on a misconception. How many wars could have been avoided by understanding?
INDRA’S NET has a small but genuine audience. On the military and political side: Opponents of the Vietnam War will be given support for their views. Scholars who want to understand the war from both sides will get a convincing, victim’s-eye view of its roots. Those interested in military tactics can learn from the descriptions of jungle warfare. On the peace loving side: The descriptions of small town family life are nostalgic, the other face of idealism. Western readers from small towns, especially from Ludel’s hometown Carson City itself, will enjoy revisiting it in its unspoiled times. I have been in 1960’s Carson Valley, and after reading Moses Ludel’s detailed descriptions, I could draw a map that would almost satisfy the US Geological Survey.
Details, details everywhere. In INDRA’S NET they enhance the visual images but slow down the story and add ounces to the book. Ludel tells – or “shares,” as he would say – with obvious love the make and model of every car, farm implement, and weapon. Since he intends his focus to be on people and ethics, machinery is a distraction that only an equipment aficionado could care about. You’re an equipment aficionado? Then you already have that in common with Ludel.
Something mainstream publishers can’t do is provide books for small-interest reader groups. The audience for INDRA’S NET may express its gratitude to small publishing companies by visiting Trafford Publishing’s website.
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