Falling Through the Earth

Veteran's daughter follows his footsteps back to Vietnam.

This coming-of-age memoir takes stories from the author's childhood, spent in the close company of her tortured-yet-loving Vietnam vet father, Dan Trussoni, and weaves them together with his war experiences as a "tunnel rat." Danielle Trussoni also adds stories from her early 20s, when she sought to better understand her dad by traveling to Vietnam to inspect those hellish old tunnels herself. Falling is an affecting and important account at a time when a new generation of Dan Trussonis—with young sons and daughters at home—is being created in Iraq and Afghanistan. Which isn't to say that Trussoni's book inspires pity, however. She writes plainly and unsentimentally about accompanying Dan to the gritty Roscoe's Vogue Bar as a preteen; and bundling up against the Wisconsin cold to find her father, hunting rifle in hand, standing over a felled doe in their backyard. She asks about the "creamy white substance" running from its body into the snow, and her father answers abruptly, "Milk. Looks like she was nursing." She asks what its fawn will do, and her father is "dismissive, almost contemptuous," answering, "If it's strong, it will learn to feed itself." Sure, the metaphor couldn't be more obvious. But Trussoni's language isn't manipulative or ostentatious. In particular, Trussoni's vignettes from her travels in Vietnam earn our respect: She does considerable homework before her trip, and she isn't afraid to literally retrace Dan's footsteps down the legendary tunnels of Cu Chi, where he cleared booby traps and did some of the most dangerous grunt work of that war. Countering these tough stories is the closeness Trussoni shares with her father, with whom she elected to live following her parents' divorce at age 11. Chapters flip between the Trussoni family's experiences, so that you read about Trussoni as a little girl, her father as a GI, and then Trussoni again as a young woman. So much her father's daughter, she learned from him to be strong; but there's a tenderness to their relationship—and such strength in her postwar travels— that they both transcend his past bitterness, which might have been her fate, too.

 
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