Reviewed by Judy Frey
The Napalm Girl’s Journey through the Horrors of War to Faith, Forgiveness, and Peace
by Kim Phuc Phan Thi
ISBN-13: 978-1496424303, Paperback, October 3, 2017
Kim Phuc Phan Thi’s journey started with a happy girlhood in Vietnam. It continued through the Vietnam war that caused her intense physical pain and trauma leaving her body horribly scarred. Her communist government used her for propaganda, but she found faith in the ultimate healer. She began living a life of forgiveness and later became a promoter of peace. Fire Road is a well-written memoir, using a matter-of-fact tone, metaphors, and profound truths. Phan Thi tells her story without hyperbole. For example, she writes about her stay at a hospital:
For nearly forty days, I remained in critical condition at the Barsky, leaving doctors and nurses and my parents wondering if I would ever truly recover, if I would “come back to myself.” I received 100 percent of my food intravenously, I could not wear clothes, and while rehabilitation efforts eventually commenced, progress was painfully slow. I could not stand. I could not walk. My head could not swivel. My hands could not grip. I was an invalid, disabled in every conceivable way.
Phan Thi uses this tone throughout her memoir, and I never got the feeling that she was exaggerating. Instead, I felt engaged in her story. A person who has experienced deep tragedy and lived to tell the story often comes to grips with profound truths along the way. Such is the case with Phan Thi. As she started her recovery, she had to endure daily baths to treat her burns. She says, “Those baths were worse than death itself. Dying is far worse than death.” As I’ve observed this with people I know in my own life, I know this is a profound truth. The process of dying is often very painful. Dying is far worse than death.
Another profound truth that Phan Thi points out, and then expounds on, is this: “The fact is, we all are children of war, whether we have seen a single bomb fall from the sky. A battle is being waged inside of us, and the spoils are our souls. God was showing me that every person knows on some level what it is to suffer and strive, what it is to wear scars they cannot erase.”
Another reason I deem this book to be well written is Phan Thi’s effective use of metaphors. One of her metaphors incorporates the title of the book:
We all are walking one fire road or another, be it paved by relational upheaval or financial upheaval, physical or emotional or the general inconveniences of life. But when you and I come along with a posture of peace, or with gentle and kind words, or with an offer of prayer or a hug, or with anything that looks and acts like Jesus, it is as though we have used a fire extinguisher – the flames that burned hot settle down.
Another metaphor that she uses involves riding a bus:
We would miss our bus stop the first time around, since we had no idea how to make the bus driver stop. So we just stayed in our seats, riding the entire route again. Toan and I carefully watched what other passengers did, so we were savvy by the second pass: You must make your way to the exit beforethe driver jerks to a stop, and thenthe doors open for you. Oh what a metaphor that simple process would be for us, as we established ourselves in this new land.
There were several times that Phan Thi went back and forth in time as she describes an incident. What I mean is that in describing a scene from her early years, she included a bit from later in her life. Or vice versa. While giving account of a time in her later years, she jumped back in time and included something from her childhood. While this is to be expected in a memoir, and is certainly acceptable if done well, I found this aspect of her writing confusing in several places in the book.
Despite this, and a few punctuation hiccups, Phan Thi has a very enjoyable matter-of-fact tone in Fire Road. She expresses profound truths, and uses metaphors effectively. And I feel like I really got to know the author through this memoir. I would absolutely recommend this book.
About the reviewer: Judy Frey is a writer and poet from southwestern Michigan. Her poem “Nonsense of Fashion” won first place in the Miniature Literature category at the Niles District Library. Her work can be found here:http://www.nileslibrary.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Miniature-Literature-2.pdf