of family patriotism. Do you think your brother’s early death was due to his war time experience? KL: No. I’ve asked that question of several doctors. No bullets, no shrapnel, no parasites, no Agent Orange. AM: You were twice wounded and exposed to Agent Orange. Are you bitter? KL: No, I’m not. I was doing the job I wanted to do. But today somewhere in Hanoi or PhuCuong sits a Vietnamese about my age and probably half my weight with a voodoo doll of me and a bunch of rusty pins. He’s sticking these into the doll and saying, “Levin, you son of a b#*@! You came over here to kill me and my people then went back to your cars and super markets and big-busted women. But you can’t really leave.” Then he sticks a few more pins into the doll. If I ever get my hands on that guy, I know where I’m going to shove that doll. But I’m not bitter. AM: Not going to buy him a beer? KL: Robin, I probably would. Comrade in arms, that sort of thing. There’s a terrible irony to this. I was blown up and shot by weapons made in Vietnam or China or Russia and fired at me by the guys I was trying to kill. Those wounds have healed and scarred over. My good life went on despite the wounds. But the most prevailing physical pain and limitations in my life are not from those bullets and explosives and shrapnel. They’re from the after effects of Agent Orange, the defoliant made in America and used by Americans—not the Vietnamese we were fighting. We did it to ourselves. AM: When you wrote Crazy Razor you modeled the character of a North Vietnamese female doctor after a woman doctor you found in your research on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Five years later, in writing Salami and the White Horse you discovered that very doctor’s diaries. If you had access to the diaries when you wrote Crazy Razor, would the woman doctor on the Ho Chi Minh Trail be a different character? KL: Yes, I would have written a character more like the actual doctor. The character I did write, however, is one of my favorite creations in Crazy Razor and I would have lost her. Fortunately, I did not discover the diaries until long after the first book was published. Crazy Razor is better for that. AM: You’ve compared the first and last entries of your brother’s diary to the Vietnamese woman’s diaries. Talk about that, please. KL: Sure. Two docs at war. In my brother’s diary, the last entry is written in Hong Kong on his way out of Vietnam to start civilian life with his family and begin his medical residency. He complains that the lousy weather in Hong Kong is not letting him shop for souvenirs. He lives for another decade. A L I V E E 22 A S T B A Y f e b r u a r y 2 0 1 6 The woman doctor’s last entry tells of her waiting to be evacuated by North Vietnamese soldiers while American soldiers search for her clinic. Two days later, she is killed by an American bullet. In my brother’s first entry, he complains about the delay in delivering his foot locker and he doesn’t have enough fresh socks. She describes in her first entry operating on a soldier’s gut with only Novocain for an anesthetic. AM: The very last chapter of Salami and the White Horse is a short two paragraphs. You describe a conversation after the French defeat in Vietnam between a French and Viet Minh officer. Why did you do that? KL: The Viet Minh tells the Frenchman that the weapon he feared most during their war was a doctor who would treat the peasants and villagers without regard to their politics or nationality. He didn’t fear bombs or napalm or bullets. Maybe if instead of sending troops down the Ho Chi Minh Trail or putting US marines and soldiers and sailors and airmen in-country, or blockading sea-lanes and bombing, and both sides instead sent care givers—doctors, nurses and teachers— there would be no wall in Washington DC with nearly 60,000 dead American names chiseled in that smooth, beautiful, black marble. Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not. AM: And finally, you put your cousin’s Lokshen Kugel recipe in the Glossary. Why? KL: Three reasons. One, it’s mentioned in the book. Two, it’s really good. And three, why not? Kenneth Levin is a decorated naval officer, twice wounded and retired due to blindness. Salami and the White Horse as well as Levin’s other two works, are available on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and on his website, BlindmansPress.com.
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