Yakova Lynn, the widow of Pierre Gerard, has followed the wishes of her husband, a U.S. Army Vietnam War veteran, in dedicating the posthumously published The Dancing Leaves: Fort Hamilton Brooklyn (Merriam Press, 416 pp., $22.95, paper) to disabled American veterans.
Pierre Gerard (a pseudonym) had a distinguished military history. He was raised an Air Force brat by his Strategic Air Command pilot father. His French mother, a native of Le Havre, was a war bride. His uncle was a highly decorated Korean War veteran. We reviewed his first novel, Le Havre: A Riveting Expose for Our World Today, on these pages in 2015.
Gerard served in the U.S. Army Security Police at Soc Trang during his 1967-68 Vietnam War tour of duty. Afterward, his professional career, his wife tells us, was spent as a “dedicated librarian.” The Dancing Leaves deals with Vietnam War veterans at the Brooklyn VA Hospital, along with espionage, the Mafia, undercover agents, and crime bosses. This is a complex story—and one that at times confused this reader.
The very first page of this long novel refers to “rear echelon crap” and to a lifer as being a “regular John fuckin’ Wayne.” So from the start, the author flies the colors of the sort of novel it is likely to be.
Of course, the biggest clue about the nature of this novel is the title. Dancing Leaves is not a title that made this potential reader eager to read a Vietnam War novel, or to even suspect that this was one. Luckily, the book is much better than the title. At least a thousand times better.
I highly recommend The Dancing Leaves to those who are jones-ing to read another Vietnam War novel—-one that walks down some paths than are usually not trod.
The book also contains some worthy poetry and a lot of images, which sets it apart from the vast majority of Vietnam War novels. Some of the photographs made me shudder, as they show Vietnamese prisoners blindfolded in those red and white napkin-like affairs that indicate these poor fellows are likely to be shot.