Run Me to Earth

S. & S. Jan. 2020. 272p. ISBN 9781501154041. $26.
In 1960s Laos, heavily bombed by America during the war in Vietnam, Alisak, friend Prany, and Prany’s sister Noi are orphaned as young teens and rescued by dedicated doctor Vang, who runs a patched-together field hospital in a house abandoned by a French overlord. The three orphans perform missions for the doctor, roaring around on motorbikes with a decided mix of courage, commitment, and fatalism, as NYPL Young Lion Yoon (Snow Hunters), ever the elegant and penetrating writer, coolly delivers a devastating sense of what it’s like to be in the midst of war. The embattled Laotians must watch their every step or swerve of the wheel, lest one set off a mine; the orphans have ingeniously marked with sticks the routes deemed safe because they’ve made it through. In the end, Vang corrals his teenage couriers for a helicopter ride to safety, but fate scatters them cruelly. Their individual stories must be read (and not revealed here), but suffice to say that they don’t reconnect in that Hollywood way readers will want, which makes for a better and more arresting book. Meanwhile, we meet a woman who risks all to get her starving fellow citizens past the patrol boats on the river.
VERDICT Essential reading as Americans continue to grapple with our involvement in Asia and for anyone interested in top-drawer literature. [See Prepub Alert, 7/15/19.]

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