Goodreads is hosting a readers’ Q&A with Hong Kong best-selling author Jonathan Chamberlain.
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Please welcome Jonathan Chamberlain to our Q and A discussions. He is a writer who has been hijacked by life. When his daughter, Stevie, exploded into his life with all the problems she had to cope with, he ended up founding two charities for children with developmental disabilities (and wrote a memoir of this time in his book: Wordjazz for Stevie). Then when his wife was diagnosed with cancer he had a new battle on his hands – and this led to a series of cancer books starting with Fighting Cancer: A Survival Guide (1996) to the latest book The Cancer Survivor’s Bible (2012) – see his website: www.fightingcancer.com and cancer blog: www.cancerfighter.wordpress.com. He is now seeking to get back to his writing career and in recent years has published the rather controversial novel, The Alphabet of Vietnam, and his comic take on the London 2012 Olympics (Dreams of Gold). He has also started a blog, In Praise of Older Books: www.2ndhandbooklover.wordpress.com. Jonathan’s Goodreads Profile: Jonathan Chamberlain.
Hi Jonathan, the great thing about this Goodreads site is that you come across new authors, like yourself. I am fascinated to see how diverse your writing is – and so highly recommended by so many people. I’m not sure I’m in the mood for anything too serious as just finished a very depressing book about abuse so may start with the Dreams of Gold. Okay, my question, can I ask what is controversial about The Alphabet of Vietnam? Cheers:)
As you can see from the reviews on this site it’s had everything from one star to five stars. Some say it’s badly written, others extremely well written. Basically the issue is violence. I have described a number of extremely brutal rape-murders – not at length but not pulling any punches and since these are described from the POV of one of the perpetrators, the tone is aggressive. Perhaps two of these go over (probably well over) the line of comfortable reading (they certainly made for very uncomfortable writing) – and I should say here that violence is not a hallmark of my writing – in fact these scenes are the only scenes of violence I will ever write. But although I was – and remain – uncomfortable with them I decided in the end that they served an important purpose. First off, they are both depictions of something that really happened. Susan Brownmiller (in Against our Will) described the incident that was the model for one of these episodes and I think a news report of the mass murderers Charles Ng and Leonard Lake gave me the other.
In part, I think I was aiming this at male readers. I wanted to disturb. I wanted male readers to feel complicit. The book is in part about the violence that was perpetrated by US soldiers in Vietnam – which I don’t feel has been fully taken on board in America. Time has moved on and it is very difficult for Americans to believe that they could be doing evil – but it is not just about Americans, it’s about war in general (the philosophy of which is identical in its logic to de Sade’s philosophy of sadism). The book is very multi-layered and it does not provide answers but in a world where the word ‘Vietnam’ conjures up a war rather than a country with a culture, I think it has something important to say.
Carry on reading the discussions at Goodreads’ Writers and Readers group.