2023 IPPY Bonze Medal for Wartime Fiction
"This story of a granddaughter trying to understand what the grandfather she never knew went through will break your heart. But it will also make you proud of young men, their loyalty and courage in an impossible situation, and their women who never lost faith or hope."
"Fifty years ago, the Vietnam War marked a time of unrest in America. This novel brings that conflict home today as a woman searches for truth in her own life by finding answers to her grandfather’s death. If you enjoyed Rhys Bowen’s Tuscan Child, you’ll love The Broken Hallelujah and its story of the impact the Vietnam War has on a family today."
"Vietnam . . . a war that scarred a generation and changed American culture. Wendy Adair explores what it was like then and what it is like now for one family confronted with present and past heartbreak, its pivot a Vietnam vet missing in action almost fifty years but, in truth, never missing from impacting the lives of those who loved him. Adair shows how love in action can move a man beyond a name chiseled among too many on a wall in our nation’s capital."
Vietnam Veterans of America Book review
Wendy Adair’s first novel, The Broken Hallelujah (Bungalow Books, 370 pp. $26.99, hardcover; $16.95, paper; $5.99, Kindle), is a believable, enjoyable book divided into two stories that come together at the end.
One story is set in 1969 during the war in Vietnam and the other in 2019 in Texas. That’s where Robin Carter, a thirty-year-old woman, is trying to discover what happened to her grandfather that led to be listed as Missing in Action in the war.
Robin, recently divorced, has moved in with her grandmother, who may be dealing with early-onset Alzheimer’s. One afternoon UPS delivers a package from the government—her grandfather’s Army footlocker. Inside it are uniforms, blankets, small boxes, papers, letters, and photos. What immediately captures Robin’s attention are dozens of pocket-sized notebooks filled with her grandfather’s jottings.
“I’m wondering what happened to him,” she says to her grandmother. “Where’s this stuff been all this time? Why was it sent here now?” She reads the journals, along with a small batch of letters that her grandmother had never shown her, and that’s how we learn parts of her grandfather’s story.
Robin then reaches out to veterans groups and government agencies to try to help her understand what she’s reading. She discovers a formerly classified investigation of an incident in which several men were killed and her grandfather went missing. There are hints of illicit drug use, forced sexual activities with under-aged females, and some sort of massacre carried out by Americans.
I enjoyed the moment when, engrossed in reading about her grandfather in Vietnam, Robin says to her grandmother, “It doesn’t mean anything” about a health issue, thereby using her own form of a common phrase GIs used during the war.
With this small anecdote I had no doubt that that this determined young woman was not going to give up until she solved this mystery, and was on the way to reviving her grandfather’s good name.
I admire writers who had no personal experiences with the Vietnam War who spend the time and effort writing creatively about it. Through research and a desire to tell a good story Wendy Adair has produced this well-crafted Vietnam War-heavy novel. For others who may have the same interest, she has done a great job showing them the way.
This story follows present-day Robin Carter as she cares for her grandmother and begins to dig into what really happened to her grandfather Martin’s disappearance in the Vietnam war.
Martin has been MIA for fifty years when suddenly his footlocker is delivered to his widow. Inside the footlocker are Martin’s journals. As Robin reads them, she gets a sense of the honest and brave man her grandfather was. She also suspects there has been a coverup in the details of his death.
Adair’s vivid descriptions made me feel like I was there looking over Robin and Martin’s shoulders. It was an emotional read as the coverup's depth and consequences emerged. About halfway through the book, I found that I just couldn’t put it down. I could feel the heartbreak Robin’s grandmother experienced when she lost the love of her life just as their marriage had hardly begun. Martin, trapped in Vietnam, would never see his unborn daughter. I was breathlessly hoping Robin would find her grandfather's remains before her aging grandmother’s memories of him faded away.
Overall, I loved the book, loved the writing style. Adair uses excerpts from Martin’s 1969 journals to move the reader effortlessly back and forth between past and present. However, I did get tired of the excessive cursing and the way-too-frequent mentions of the “swear jar.”
Angela Harris, REEDSY
*WARNING: This book contains potential triggers for Veterans, Asians, and African Americans*
A luminous Vietnam War tale as seen through the symbolic eyes of war ghosts and the treasured memories of the living.
The Broken Hallelujah, written by Wendy Adair, is a clever, gripping, historical mystery and romance fiction about the Vietnam War revealed in a fresh and edifying way. A cast of characters forces you to view truth, justice, bravery, patience, humor, unity, (and even love) in a new light, while enthralling readers to rethink racial, gender, cultural, and patriotic divides for generations to come.
Many novels depict the complex world of the Vietnam War by echoing the stories many have read in textbooks. Although I will never challenge the necessity of scholastic writings, there is something compelling about a writer who can take the same scholarly data, yet add a pinch of "special ingredient" to the mix most lack (i.e., human emotion) to make a novel built for the ages. This is the spirit of The Broken Hallelujah.
While reading The Broken Hallelujah, I reflected on my "tour of duty" as a former, civilian employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Adair's characters reminded me of the emotions and feelings often expressed by countless veterans, family members, and public and private entities, all fighting to bring truth to the past, faith in the present, and triumph in the future; expressions I never ignored. Prolific messages found within the pages of The Broken Hallelujahexhibit Adair's skillful assimilation of the Vietnamese Vietnam War stories interlaced with the myriad of American Vietnam War stories; each irrefutably similar in nature.
(continued next column)
As Adair beautifully states "People are universal."
The book had a few (minor) flaws. First, I had to remind myself it was historical FICTION (and therefore, not fault her creative control regarding modifications made to important locations, dates, and/or military procedures). However, my fear is not abated that some readers may forget the same. Second, there were a few details stated one way at the beginning yet later, stated differently (causing confusion).
Personally, I never fully "rooted" for the main female character since (to me) she had several "less-than-desirable" traits. Not that it didn't work; I just rooted more for several minor characters. My favorite character was Martin because I could identify with his impenetrable sense of truth and justice; he was truly "born before his time." The intricate placement of clues and red herrings kept me guessing. I solved the mystery before my "co-detectives" (but they weren't far behind)! The mystery was thrilling, the descriptions impressive, and the dialogue "true-to-life" (ESPECIALLY from the "mature" characters; their "sassiness" was ADORABLE). I hope to see them return in future books!
In conclusion, The Broken Hallelujah is more than "another" Vietnam War novel; it is an impassioned tale of truth, justice, and our commonalities within this crazy maze called "life." If you want to read an astounding, original, exciting, and "f**king" great book (which I HIGHLY recommend), then go grab yourself a copy of The Broken Hallelujah. And YES... I owe $1 to the swear jar!