The treatment of the Vietnam war veterans and the memory of New Zealand soldiers who fought there are being kept alive by a Levin librarian writing books about the conflict, writes Paul Williams.
Carole Brungar is gaining international acclaim for her work, and some Vietnam war veterans had contacted her to say her books - the latest of which hit shelves this week - had brought them to tears.
Vietnam veterans from America and New Zealand have written to tell her that her stories could be about any veteran who had served.
"The treatment of those who served in Vietnam was, in my opinion, shocking. My books were written to highlight the hardships the veterans and their families have had to face," she said.
"I've had some amazing feedback from Vietnam veterans who have read my stories — some have been in tears as a result of reading the books."
"There are so many untold stories that I hope, in a way, that my stories, although totally fictitious, start a process of encouraging more veterans to talk about what happened over there and when they returned."
"My aim was to make readers stop and think about what they had experienced, then I would consider my job done."
Brungar breathed life into believable characters and provided a realistic and often highly accurate depiction on the Vietnam war, helping to illustrate the contribution of New Zealand soldiers.
"I see it as a conflict governments want to forget. There is any number of stories set during World War I and World War II, but very little in the way of fiction set during the Vietnam conflict which caused a huge reaction not only here in New Zealand, but in Australia and America as well," she said.
As an ex-journalist Brungar did extensive research and travelled to Vietnam to see it first-hand.
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"It doesn't matter how many documentaries or accounts you watch or listen to, you can't experience the senses," she said.
"I wanted to go over and smell the street smells. Get caught in a monsoon downpour and then find I was dry again 10 minutes later. Eat street food. Meet locals. See the landscapes. Listen to the language. Walk the back streets and alleys. Visit the places the Kiwis had been."
That also included shooting AK47 and M16 machine guns.
Brungar returns readers to 1960s with the new novel titled Going Home - hot on the heels of its predecessors The Nam Shadow and The Nam Legacy .
It is another confronting trip that reminds readers of a propaganda-fuelled war and a fragile hope for survival, woven around a love story between a New Zealand nurse and an American pilot.
Brungar's previous two novels were also set in Vietnam and highlighted issues around Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the health problems related to Agent Orange.
The Nam Legacy won the California Dreamin' Award in America for best opening chapter in a novel, and was in the NZ Booksellers Top Ten for NZ fiction for seven consecutive weeks in 2017.
The Nam Shadow won a gold medal in the Independent Publishers Awards for excellence, and a gold medal in the Beverly Hills Book Awards in the military fiction category. It was also a finalist in the American Fiction Awards, in 2019.
Going Home still has the realities of war but is, at its heart, a love story, set in Qui Nhon and Bong Son, in the central highlands of South Vietnam, where New Zealand had surgical and medical teams during the war.
"I think that reading a great love story lifts the reader," she said.
"It boosts our spirits. I think love stories are true to real-life when sometimes fate throws us 'shitty' situations, like accidents and deaths and divorces. How a character deals with these situations can be inspiring to those who read them."
"The living and working conditions were absolutely horrific, with lots of disease, poverty and unsanitary conditions. Those nurses who were there must have been some of the most amazingly strong women."
"I'm not sure that the general population here in New Zealand would even know that we had nurses working in civilian hospitals over there at that time, and in areas that were in the middle of Viet Cong strongholds — the most dangerous places."
centres around a hard-working New Zealand nurse Ronnie McIlroy, who volunteers to spend 12 months in a South Vietnamese hospital.
McIlroy was not prepared for the horrors of a poverty-stricken country at war, but she knuckles down to do what she can to help.
She is cautious when she meets Joseph Hunter Jr, an American pilot. They know the odds are stacked against a relationship, with the war between the North and South escalating, resulting in hundreds of lives being lost every day.
As Ronnie and Joe navigate the constant dangers of living and working in a war zone, it's clear fate has decided their time and place to fall in love is now.
But will one naive act of compassion destroy any chance of a life together? Will either of them leave Vietnam alive?
Brungar wrote in her spare time, as she worked full-time at Horowhenua College as a school librarian.
Her first book took 18 months to complete as she "totally immersed" herself in learning as much as she could about the conflict in Vietnam.
"I was a cot case. It was tough going," she said.
"It is important these stories are told. Anything to do with the Vietnam war has been a taboo subject in New Zealand, which is a real shame."
Brungar has a Bachelor of Communications and a background in journalism and photography.