The cover of Joe Garner Turman’s 40 Days to Eternity (Tate Publishing, 224 pp., $17.99, paper), a photo of gloomy, storm-tossed seas, makes this volume look like a religious pamphlet. So when I turned the book over and read that the author and his wife, Gloria, had served as missionaries for thirty years, I was not surprised.
The back cover informs us that Turman’s experience in Vietnam during the last days of the war led to his writing 40 Days to Eternity. But we are not told what his role in the Vietnam War was, nor what branch of the military he served in, if any.
Turman has done his research or has first-hand experience in the details of what South Vietnam was like during March and April 1975. John Gunter, our hero, had served in the U. S. Army in Nha Trang two years earlier and decides to return to Vietnam with a money belt filled with good American dollars to find his girlfriend, Mai, marry her, and spirit her and her family out of South Vietnam before it falls to the communists.
The great strength of this well-written, well-designed book is the wealth of detail it gives—detail that is integral to the plot of the book—of the Christian missionary community in South Vietnam. The novel also presents many well-realized and believable Vietnamese characters, along with American loyalists and Vietnamese of the other ilk, all of whom are depicted realistically and none of whom are demonized.
As a reader who left South Vietnam in late 1967, I found the details surrounding the steps John Gunter took to find Mai, connect with her family, and figure out how to get himself, her, and her family out of fast-collapsing South Vietnam fascinating and fully engrossing.
The questions asked on the back cover are: Do the lovers get to the coast before being trapped in Vietnam? Do they reach Hopewell, Texas, marry, and live happily ever after?
I won’t give away anything, except to say that I found the novel quite harrowing as the main characters run out of food, water, and fuel on the twenty-foot fishing boat they use to try to escape South Vietnam. I hoped their prayers would be answered and that our hero, his beloved, and her family would not perish. As one large ship after another refuses them help, the suspense did build for me.
I highly recommend this novel to all prospective readers who are interested in the last days of the American-backed regime in South Vietnam and especially to those ready to appreciate the bravery of the Christian missionary community and the Vietnamese Christian community aspects of the American presence in South Vietnam.
I was mostly oblivious to this during my tour of duty in South Vietnam. I guess I had other things on my mind.
The author’s website is http://joegarnerturman.com