Tag Archives: unflinching honesty

The Power Of A Harvard Education


I am still processing “My Detachment” by Tracy Kidder.  So many layers in this compact story of Mr. Kidder’s experience as a lieutenant during the Vietnam war. He describes briefly his upper middle-class family and going to Harvard for his college education. Poor Tracy is clueless most of the time and naively immature in his struggles to figure out who he is. He struggles with typical insecurity over a first love and agonizes internally instead of asking.

After he signs up for a tour as an officer in the Vietnam War he discovers he has greatly romanticized his role and hasn’t a clue how to lead his men. Tracy describes humorously and brutally how quickly he is brought to his knees after arriving in Vietnam. I was impressed with Tracy’s unflinching honesty about his shortcomings despite the elite Harvard education. I was also struck by the less dramatic aspects of this war and a lieutenant with too much time on his hands.

I remember a co-worker’s son complaining about bone- crushing boredom while trying to stay alert on his tour in Iraq and also the stark pictures of body bags returning from both wars. Tracy is relieved to be away from the battle zones (and feels guilty) but wants to make a positive contribution all the same. He wants the respect of his men (a scary pack leader called Pancho included) but struggles with “how” to be a leader to his enlisted men. I couldn’t help but be outraged by the hypocrisy of the class system in the military.  Yep, statistics show that the poor and uneducated are much more expendable, so sadly that hasn’t changed. The sly way these enlisted men get around the system made me want to cheer though.

This book reminded me  how difficult it is to find our place in the world after being let loose, it only comes with time and many humiliating mistakes. This was written in 2005 and I was amazed at the recall he had of his tour in Vietnam, I guess the mind of a writer is never at rest. There is a gentleness about Tracy that one  might confuse with “detachment” but this book proves otherwise. Really, really liked this book.

Jenny Otsuka’s book “The Buddha in the Attic” is a compact little book that punches you right between the eyes. Oooo la la! Women  from all walks of life, leave Japan in search of a better life as mail order brides. They were seduced by promises . You KNOW what happens when the grooms describe the “wonderful” life these women will have if they come to America as their wives. Liar! Liar! Liars! The brides become little more than indentured servants.

Otsuka writes as the collective voice of all the women and even though her writing style is very spare, she  bluntly (but poignantly) describes the general despair and oppression these women find in the land of opportunity. You can’t help but notice how we have a history of treating all other races as inferior. These women bear it with quiet dignity and are determined to carve out some kind of life for themselves. It seems that the Japanese were the premier choice in field and domestic labor. They prided themselves on that fact while resenting it bitterly. Really good book!

Still plowing through “The Male Brain” so check back for all sorts of interesting facts about the male species. How many women will read these brain books compared to men do you think? Hmmmmmm.