In search of love, absolution, or forgiveness, Charles Boatman leaves the Fraser Valley of British Columbia and returns mysteriously to Vietnam, the country where he fought twenty-nine years earlier as a young, reluctant soldier. But his new encounters seem irreconcilable with his memories.
When he disappears, his daughter Ada, and her brother, Jon, travel to Vietnam, to the streets of Danang and beyond, to search for him. Their quest takes them into the heart of a country that is at once incomprehensible, impassive, and beautiful. Chasing her father’s shadow for weeks, following slim leads, Ada feels increasingly hopeless. Yet while Jon slips into the urban nightlife to avoid what he most fears, Ada finds herself growing closer to her missing father — and strong enough to forgive him and bear the heartbreaking truth of his long-kept secret.
Bergen’s marvellously drawn characters include Lieutenant Dat, the police officer who tries to seduce Ada by withholding information; the boy Yen, an orphan, who follows Ada and claims to be her guide; Jack Gouds, an American expatriate and self-styled missionary; his strong-willed and unhappy wife, Elaine, whose desperate encounters with Charles in the days before his disappearance will always haunt her; and Hoang Vu, the artist and philosopher who will teach Ada about the complexity of love and betrayal. We also come to learn about the reclusive author Dang Tho, whose famous wartime novel pulls at Charles in ways he can’t explain.
Moving between father and daughter, the present and the past, The Time in Between is a luminous, unforgettable novel about one family, two cultures, and a profound emotional journey in search of elusive answers.
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Read an Excerpt
The Time In Between
By David Bergen
Random HouseDavid Bergen
All right reserved.
The typhoon arrived that night. Ada woke to the sound of rain driving against the windows. Above them, on the rooftop, chairs fell and banged against the washstand. The corrugated tin on the stairwell roof worked loose and flapped for an hour before it broke free and fell like a whirling blade down onto the street. Ada was standing at the window watching the palm trees bend in the wind and she saw the tin roofing fly by and land on the tennis courts in the distance. The power went out and then flickered on and finally cut out completely. Ada woke Jon, her brother, who had returned while she was sleeping, and she held his hand and said, "I'm frightened."
He sat up and said, "It's a small storm. Don't worry."
She could smell sex on him; sometimes the smell was musty and bleachy but tonight it was sweat and the slightest hint of old saliva. That smell. She stood and walked across the room. "The boats are coming in," she said. "They know something we don't. I've counted thirty already."
The wind pulled at the hotel sign and threw it onto the street below.
"Get away from the window," Jon said. "The glass could fall in."
She sat at the edge of his bed and he held her hand and they listened. The wind arrived from out of the sky and from across the ocean and it seemed that it would never end, until it slid away, a deceptive and distant howl, and then returned just as quickly, banging against the trees and buildings, and everything loose was pulled into the maelstrom. She wanted it to stop. She began to shiver and even though Jon was beside her she felt very much alone.
"Look at us. We're so stupid," she said.
"Here," Jon said, and he made her lie down and he covered her. He held his hands over her ears and put his thumbs against her eyes until the hollow core of the typhoon descended. And with that awful stillness came the everyday sounds: the clock on the bureau; something, perhaps a rat, moving about on the rooftop; the dry cough of the old man below them; the song of a woman calling again and again.
"It's gone," Ada said.
Jon said it would return. She said that the waiting frightened her more than the wind. She said she believed that their father was dead.
Jon was quiet. A siren sounded. The lights flashed across the dark sky and then disappeared.
Excerpted from The Time In Between by David Bergen
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
1. David Bergen’s writing style is distinctive — so plain as to seem “styleless,” yet capable of great eloquence. Choose some sentences or paragraphs that strike you as particularly successful, and analyze what gives them their power.
2. On the surface, this could be described as a sad book. Yet the main characters — Charles, Ada, and Jon — make emotional or spiritual journeys during the course of the novel, in addition to geographical ones. Describe the inner journeys of these characters. In what ways are they ultimately redemptive?
3. The Bible talks about the sins of the father being visited on his children. Jon tells his sister Ada, “His [Charles’s] love for you is like a weight that you have to carry” [p. 67]. In what ways does Charles’s “sin” as well as his love weigh on, or otherwise affect, his children? Describe the different ways Ada, Jon, and their sister, Dell, deal with their father and his love.
4. Discuss the various possible meanings of the title, The Time in Between.
5. Tomas Manik and Hoang Vu are visual artists; Vu is also a writer, as is the elusive Dang Tho. Each has a different status in society. Consider these differences and discuss what Bergen is saying about the Artist and how he is regarded in Vietnam, as opposed to in North America or in Europe. Discuss in what ways being an artist has shaped Vu’s and Dang Tho’s lives.
6. David Bergen writes that Ada Boatman has been “given some sort of gift” from Vu, her Vietnamese lover. Discuss Ada and Vu’s relationship. What do you think the gift was?
7. The Boatmans are an American/Canadian family temporarily in Vietnam; the Goudses are Americans planning a longer stay. How do these characters try (or not try) to understand something of Vietnam? What assumptions do they arrive with? What, if anything, does Vietnam teach them? At one point, as she leaves Vu and returns to Danang, Ada becomes “aware that a window had been flung open onto a view of an alien and foreign place, and then, just as suddenly, it had closed” [p. 232]. What brings Ada to that moment, and do you think the author is making a general point about Westerners in foreign cultures?
8. David Bergen says he doesn’t see his book as a war novel. But how would you describe the book’s relationship to war? Are Charles’s experiences universal wartime ones? Could they have taken place equally plausibly in, for example, World War I or II, or the American Civil War? Or is there something about his killing of the boy, particularly, that seems specific to this war?
9. The Vietnamese veterans of the war, as well as the civilians, deal with their memories of the war quite differently than the Americans do. How would you characterize these differences, giving instances from as many characters on both sides as you can?
10. The Time in Between is concerned with conflict on two vastly different levels — the Vietnam War and the struggles within the Boatman family between spouses, between parents and children, and between siblings. Discuss these conflicts. Does Bergen suggest any connection between the public and private struggles in the novel?
11. Charles Boatman carries a terrible secret for years, but he’s not the only person in the novel with a secret. The Boatman family has its share, some of which have been revealed before the trip to Vietnam, some of which come to light later. So, too, do Elaine and Jack Gouds. Discuss these various secrets, and their connections to the book’s themes.
12. Structurally, The Time in Between is unusual in that the body of Charles Boatman is found about one hundred pages before the end of the book. The “quest” in the novel, in that sense, ends early. Or does it? What significant things happen after the discovery of the body — and can only happen, as a matter of fact, once Charles’s fate is known?
13. The most prominent of the five senses in this novel is that of smell. How does Bergen use the sense of smell in the story, and why does it seem so important?
14. There are two blind characters in this book — the blind soldier befriended by Kiet in the Vietnamese novel Charles reads, and the blind American veteran Ada meets in a cafe. When Charles’s body is found, fish have eaten his eyes. What is the significance of blindness in The Time in Between?
15. Charles tells his children stories while they sit in the bunker he builds, and Ada believes that “each successive story was like a piece of thread, and she was collecting those pieces” [p. 39]. Stories play a crucial role in this novel: the various versions Charles tells about his war experiences; the story that Kiet tells to save his life in the Vietnamese novel-within-a-novel (another story in itself); the life stories that characters do and don’t want to tell or hear. What is the author saying about the role of stories in our lives, and in the lives of the book’s characters?
16. When Ada disbelieves Elaine Gouds’s description of her relationship with Charles, “She saw that sex could leap out of nowhere and obscure a person, make them stupid” [p.191]. Who else does this happen to in the novel? How do various characters in the novel approach sexuality?
17. “Safe” is an important word and concept in The Time in Between. Characters promise to watch over each other and their belongings. Charles builds a bunker to keep his children safe. Having read Bergen’s novel, what kinds of safety do you think he believes are possible?
18. “Nothing better for trust than hunting,” Charles says, as he invites Tomas to go hunting with him [p. 98]. In the novel, there are several acts of violence against animals. How do they connect with the main story and its themes?
19. The young Vietnamese boy, Yen, tells Ada that “everybody wanted something that they couldn’t have” [p. 9]. What are the characters’ impossible wishes? Are the things that Yen tells Ada, or shows her, about herself?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
powerful father-daughter story of the viet nam legacy
Bought this at a second hand sale just because it won the Giller prize. A novel of discovery for Ada Boatman and her brother Jon who travel to Vietnam to find their father who has disappeared. Charles Boatman was a Vietnam war vet. he commits suicide while back in Vietnam,Don't know what I think of this book. The writing was clear and the book was easy to read,Quite eloquent in fact. It just didn't do anything for me and I could not relate. I did enjoy the descriptions of Vietnamese life, the countryside and the people. They were beautifully described.
On the back cover of my copy of The Time in Between there is a blurb from the San Francisco Chronicle saying "A sparse and moving meditation on the burden of war across generations." I couldn't have described it better. As the book begins, Ada Boatman and her brother Jon are in Vietnam to search for their father Charles. He had gone back to Vietnam some thirty years after he was a soldier there to try and deal with his feelings about a certain painful experience while in the army, a part of his personal story his family doesn't know about. He revisited his time in Vietnam in his head after reading a book given to him by a friend and felt compelled to go back. But after some time, his family stopped hearing from him; Charles has seemingly just disappeared. The story has two narratives that ultimately weave together - the story of Charles and his need to return to Vietnam and what he finds there, and then Ada's story, and what she finds when she goes in search of her father.In literature, sometimes less is more. Bergen's work may be short and rather subdued in parts, but it is powerful and carries real emotion. Charles' story is excellently handed down and his character is drawn neatly so that he becomes real. Ada's story was okay, but not the best part of this novel. In any case, this is another one I'd recommend. People who enjoy reading about the past's pull on the present, or who enjoy novels about Vietnam and its aftereffects on the human psyche may also like this book.
good reader who did different voices. sad story. good characters.
A well-written, subtle and very true study of loss, past and family that, in the end, did absolutely nothing for me. There is nothing I want to research more, think about or go back to. It¿s very well written, but totally unremarkable for me. At least this is how I feel right after reading it. Maybe it will change later.
Another great Canadian work of fiction. It's hard to say I "really liked" it, because I found it to be a dark, almost depressing novel, but it is very well written and heart-wrenching. Two siblings are in Vietnam looking for their father who had come to visit the country years after being there to fight in the war. A third of the way (or so) into the book the narration shifts to tell the story from the father's perspective before returning to the daughter's POV. She is the main protagonist, though the father's presence is always hovering in the story, almost like a ghost.
This is a Giller Prize winning book from 2005. I am working my way through the list of past winners. This book to me was middle of the road for a Giller Prize winner. The writing is almost poetic-spare and descriptive. The story is set in British Columbia, Canada and in Vietnam. I liked the settings very much. I found that the book did move me and gave an insight into post traumatic stress. Charles Boatman served in the Vietnam war and then comes to settle in Canada afterwards. He secludes himself high up in the British Columbia mountains, raises three children there, and then decides to go back to Vietnam to try to lay to rest old memories. He seems to disappear once there and so two of his children come to find him, and have to trace his history during the war in order to find him and in order to understand some of the demons that their father had all his post war life. Don't get me wrong, this is a good book. Maybe just a little far off of my preferred genre for me to love it.