book review

Book Review: Saigon

SAIGON by Ralph Pezzullo is an invitation to remember and never forget. Check out what Madeline Barbush of IBR has to say about this Atmosphere Press book.

Book Review: Saigon

Reviewed by Madeline Barbush

An invitation to remember and never forget

Ralph Pezzullo could have left his harrowing past behind, but in this daring coming-of-age memoir, he reexamines his time living in Saigon, Vietnam in 1962.

Thirteen-year-old Pezzullo, called Michael here, moves to Saigon with his two siblings and parents for his father’s new position as a U.S. diplomat. He is a sensitive and curious young boy, questioning most everything around him in an innocent and eager-to-learn manner. 

Here, he experiences enough for a lifetime: tension mounting in a country dealing with a looming crisis, violence in places where he’d never expect it, the wrongdoings of his father, and life in a place that has become his home. 

With the ugly comes some beauty, though: a first love, new friendships with locals, a new city he can love. 

Pezzullo’s father is at the center of this memoir. He asks a lot of Michael and does little to protect him. When his father is overwhelmed with familial issues, he shoves Michael into his place and tells him to deal. He treats Michael like an adult when it is convenient for him, then like a child when he wants all of the control. 

The author portrays the father and son’s heart-wrenching relationship with a tactfulness so rare in storytelling today. He never curses his father or makes a monster out of him. Rather, Michael’s desire to please him matures throughout the story and transforms into an acceptance that he will never be able to do right in his father’s eyes. It’s a special experience to watch Pezzullo grow through his painful reality. 

Saigon makes us understand what it is to be with someone you so badly wish to love. That love has been lost somewhere, and Pezzullo tenderly shows us the contrast of a child so open and loving, with a parent so forceful and unsympathetic. 

Michael is inquisitive and kind, caring and strong. When he’s away from his family and their terrible attitude, he is able to find so much beauty in Saigon. A little openness goes a long way for his soul. It’s impressive that the author is able to focus in on joyful interactions between Michael and the locals during such a dark time in history. In this way, Pezzullo covertly conveys the difference between giving into the negativity surrounding you and practicing empathy when you might not understand something. 

Pezzullo grows from an innocently curious boy to a young man who understands the power of his heart and mind in Saigon

This memoir invites you to always remember what you’ve gone through and make a pledge to do things differently moving forward. With a lesser storyteller at the helm we may have been led astray, but with Pezzullo as our guide, we are given a blueprint on how to reflect on our past and grow from it for the future. 

Publisher: Atmosphere Press

Genre: Nonfiction / Memoir

Print Length: 288 pages

ISBN: 978-1639880676

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