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  • Writer's pictureGaili Schoen


“It was another inborn talent of these privileged girls; they were irresistible, much as you hated them.”

I'm not generally a fan of wartime novels, but Absolution which takes place in Saigon during the Viet Nam war (which the Vietnamese call the American War) is one of my favorite novels of 2023. Reading Absolution after Owner of a Lonely Heart opened my eyes to aspects of the war I hadn't been aware of. Here is the publisher's summary:

American women―American wives―have been mostly minor characters in the literature of the Vietnam War, but in Absolution they take center stage. Tricia is a shy newlywed, married to a rising attorney on loan to navy intelligence. Charlene is a practiced corporate spouse and mother of three, a beauty and a bully. In Saigon in 1963, the two women form a wary alliance as they balance the era’s mandate to be “helpmeets” to their ambitious husbands with their own inchoate impulse to “do good” for the people of Vietnam.
Sixty years later, Charlene’s daughter, spurred by an encounter with an aging Vietnam vet, reaches out to Tricia. Together, they look back at their time in Saigon, taking wry account of that pivotal year and of Charlene’s altruistic machinations, and discovering how their own lives as women on the periphery―of politics, of history, of war, of their husbands’ convictions―have been shaped and burdened by the same sort of unintended consequences that followed America’s tragic interference in Southeast Asia.
A virtuosic new novel from Alice McDermott, one of our most observant, most affecting writers, about folly and grace, obligation, sacrifice, and, finally, the quest for absolution in a broken world.

"I told Peter’s story, which was my own, and felt, what else to call it but patriotic pride. Saw that the three women felt it, too. Bright young men and their pretty little wives rising, rising, immigrant roots and working-class backgrounds be damned."

I listened to the audiobook of Absolution on the app which was wonderfully narrated by Jesse Vilinsky and Rachel Kenney - I highly recommend the audiobook!

Hardcover 336 pages, Audiobook 10 hours


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