Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Paco's Story Readalong - Week 2

Welcome to the Paco Story Readalong Week 2 discussion questions. In chapters 3 and 4, Paco has arrived in the US from Vietnam, with scars and a walking cane as proof of his experience. He gives nearly all of his cash to a bus driver and tells him to take him as far as the money lasts. Which is a small town in Texas.

1. Do you think Paco is ready to rejoin the living and will he easily re-enter “normal” life?

Would anyone be ready, honestly? I think just about every Vietnam Vet had issues with adjustment after they returned home, but it seems like Paco is as ready as the next guy. I don't think his re-entry will be easy. His cane and his limp draws attention and prejudice, and he will have to overcome this.

2. How do you think the lively atmosphere of Rita’s Tender Tap affects Paco?

It is hard to tell what Paco is thinking in any of these scenes, because he speaks few words. But by his actions (in this case, his swift departure), I believe he was overwhelmed by all that humanity, and by the patrons' disregard for him. I would imagine he felt like he didn't belong.

3. Do you think Heinemann made the right choice in narrator, or do you believe Paco should be telling his own story?

The obvious choice WOULD have been for Heinemann to allow Paco to tell his own story. However, the soldier ghost's perspective is an inspired decision. It provides us the viewpoint of America, watching our soldiers come home from the war. An outsider's viewpoint. It actually is more insightful than if we were privy to only Paco's thoughts. What it tells me is that in general, the world passed the soldiers by, and often could care less about their stories.

4. Do you think the side stories about the medic who found Paco, the bus driver, and Mr. Elliot, etc., add to the narrative or take too much attention away from Paco, who seems to hide in the background during these asides?

No, I don't think the side stories distract at all. Like I stated in question #3, these characters are a cross-section of America, and how they responded to the returning soldiers. In Mr. Elliot, we see a man damaged by his own wars and ghosts, and didn't even recognize the existence of the Vietnam War. The bus driver saw Paco as one in thousands that pass before his eyes in a year's time. The owner of the diner, on the other hand, was a Marine and saw in Paco a brother. Each of these characters represents everyman.

5. How do you feel about Paco at this point in the book?

Obviously I feel sympathy for him, and wish I could help him. But I've had little insight into who he really is. So far, he has passed through the first four chapters as an invisible man.


Zibilee said...

It seems like thew main character in this book has been drawn a little vaguely, and I would bet that it was done on purpose.I am going to have to keep reading along to find out just how all this turns out!

Serena said...

Great discussion...I agree that Paco does seem ghostly...passing through the chapters, which I think is a partial drawback of the outside narrator, though I really like this narration so far. I just want it all!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I haven't read this (although we have it - my husband has read it) but I remember how hard it was for the vets when they came home. Can you imagine - going over there and being subjected to all that and then coming home and being subjected to scorn by your peers? Those poor guys!!!

Serena said...

It boggles my mind how many parallels between the Vietnam War and the Iraq/Afghanistan wars there are, particularly in how vets are treated when they returned home...they don't make the decisions to go to war...they follow orders.

Jill, you should have read along with us!

Kathleen said...

I look forward to the subsequent updates on your read a long. I have always been horrified by the treatment most Vietnam war vets encountered when they returned home. We had neighbors who had two sons in the war and we had a big party for them when they returned. Sadly, I don't think this was the case for most of the vets.

Anna said...

Sounds like you and I are on the same page when it comes to this book. I wish I knew more about Paco, where he came from, what he was like before, but the ghostly narrator really does give you a better glimpse of what returning veterans went through.

My dad was an MP in the Air Force in Vietnam. When he came home, people threw dog feces at him and the others he was with and called them baby killers. Many of the soldiers didn't even choose to fight, so that had to be hard to stomach on top of the horrors of war.

Jules said...

I loved what you said to the fourth question, and can't agree with you more.

I think you are right about how the world passed by and didn't care much about the soldiers and their return. I think it's one of the most shocking things of this war, no one was prepared or wanted to be prepared for the soldiers who returned. There was no help, no support, just the stigma of fighting a war, no one wanted to be in, in the first place.

Literary Feline said...

I'm enjoying reading everyone's responses to the discussion. It's such a revealing book and yet so much is held back, especially when it comes to Paco. I'm dying to get into his head and know what he is thinking. He seems to be going through the motions of life. It is interesting though to get the perspective of those he meets--see how they treat him. I like how you described the other characters as "everyman". So true.