Run Me to Earth

Written by Paul Yoon
Review by David Drum

One terrible night in 1969, three young Laotian medical workers pilot motorbikes and passengers toward a helicopter that will take them away from the war, but an accident occurs that splits their lives apart. Paul Yoon’s disjointed, dreamlike new novel shifts back and forth over 25 years to tell these orphans’ stories. The backdrop is the emotional and physical devastation American bombers wreaked on Laos during the Vietnam War.

Alisak and Prany are seventeen-year old boys, and sixteen-year-old Noi is Prany’s younger sister. All three have been recruited to run errands and help take care of patients in an abandoned colonial mansion converted to a hospital near the Plain of Jars, one of the most heavily bombed sites in former French Indochina.

At the hospital, a piano-playing Laotian doctor named Vang oversees the orphans’ work and is later captured with one of the orphans. After being released, the doctor and his former assistant seek revenge on the individual who tortured and disabled them in prison. A childhood friend and former lover of Vang’s, a smuggler named Auntie, sets in motion an escape which leads to the book’s conclusion years later.

Dialogue is sparse. Friendships formed and broken apart by earth-shaking events are not neatly resolved. Yoon’s orphans seem guarded and emotionally distant, if not quite of this world. There is a thin, filtered quality to these stories, as if events are seen through what might be called the haze of war.

The motorbike accident and revenge are graphically rendered, but there is little heroism or romance in this short, nicely packaged book, basically a tale of human beings scrambling to survive a terrible war.