three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
21-Mar-Apr-2006
By: 
David Bergen
user_rating: 
0

A-TheTimeInBetweenCharles, a Vietnam vet estranged from life and living in remote British Columbia, raises his three children alone after his wife dies. As they reach adulthood, Charles delves further back into his terrible memories of Vietnam. A novel written by a North Vietnamese soldier prompts Charles to return to Vietnam and face the ghosts that have haunted him for three decades. But when he fails to find the source of his guilt and make peace with his past, two of his children, Ada and Jon, set out to find him—dead or alive. In the process, they address their own fears about love, loss, and forgiveness.
Random House. 256 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 1400062403

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"This well-crafted fourth novel by David Bergen explores the ripple effects of the Vietnam War—how the moral obscenity of battle can change the lives of not only the soldier but of the marriage left behind and the children later. … He has written an elegant, perceptive eulogy for those traumatized by the war in Vietnam, with implications for the survivors of any war." Beth Taylor

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Although Ada quickly emerges as the novel’s center, The Time in Between shifts back and forth between her quest and her father’s, and several times reaches back to their lives in Canada. Bergen manages to press many strong stories into these lean pages." Dan Zigmond

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"It is this delicate domestic interplay, involving a family redefining itself, that constitutes the deeper story of the novel. … We get scenes of Boatman’s soldier life, scenes of his experiences upon returning from the war, and vignettes of his children’s lives." Scott Morris

Chicago Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Bergen’s characters and their respective struggles are walking contradictions to many popular nostrums about life: Whether the truth will set you free or not is an open question. … It’s part war story in an extended sense, but part expatriate novel, too, as if A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises had been rolled into one." Art Winslow

Seattle Times 3 of 5 Stars
"As award-winning Winnipeg novelist Bergen shows in this quiet narrative that interweaves Charles’s quest to make peace with his past with his grown children’s struggle to find him, war’s traumas can survive long after the fighting ends. … His picture of a middle-age father unable to endure the bad dreams, guilt and depression of post-traumatic stress disorder forms a poignant contrast to Ada and Jon, for whom Vietnam, both exotic and damaged, holds no terrible memories." Irene Wanner

Washington Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The Time In Between is … a series of momentous pauses between events in which desperately lonely people stare off at apparently random scenes and utter short, weighty observations. … The depressed will find no solace here, others only despair." Ron Charles

Critical Summary

The Time In Between, which won Canada’s prestigious Giller Prize, speaks to war’s lasting traumas. Emotionally damaged, Charles must make peace with his past—from his wartime brutality to his relationships with his ex-wife and adult children—to survive. This theme resonated with the critics, as did the variety of affecting scenes, from Charles’s violent flashbacks to Ada’s search for her father on the streets of Danang. Through its veil of despair, the novel moves hesitantly, in a monotonous voice that sometimes fails to heighten the action and deepen the characters. Despite its flaws, the novel proves that "there are still new things to say about Vietnam, and new ways to write about the way one conflict touched so many lives" (San Francisco Chronicle).

Acknowledged Inspiration

The Sorrow of War A Novel of North Vietnam | Bao Ninh (1991): In this semiautobiographical novel by a former North Vietnamese soldier, Kien recalls his 10 years on the front lines, his rural youth, and his dislocated life.