A Rift in the Earth tells the remarkable story of the ferocious "art war" that raged between 1979 and 1984 over what kind of memorial should be built to honor the men and women who died in the Vietnam War. The story intertwines art, politics, historical memory, patriotism, racism, and a fascinating set of characters, from those who fought in the conflict and those who resisted it to politicians at the highest level. At its center are two enduring figures: a young, Asian-American architecture student at Yale whose abstract design won the international competition but triggered a fierce backlash among powerful figures; and Frederick Hart, an innovative sculptor of humble origins on the cusp of stardom. James Reston, Jr., a veteran who lost a close friend in the war and has written incisively about the conflict's bitter aftermath, explores how the debate reignited passions around Vietnam long after the war's end and raised questions about how best to honor those who fought and sacrificed in an ill-advised war. Richly illustrated with photographs from the era and design entries from the memorial competition, A Rift in the Earth is timed to appear alongside Ken Burns's eagerly anticipated PBS documentary, The Vietnam War.
A Rift in the Earth Review
- January 1, 1970RichardA quite remarkable book. The story of the genesis and establishment of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC, USA.The subtext of the title says "Art, Memory and the Fight for a Vietnam War Memorial."It is a complex issue and a deep scar in the American psyche. Not surprising given the political fall out of a conflict they government loss the ability to win, the honesty to admit its futility and the courage to withdraw in terms of saving combat lives rather than face.It is a book that might n A quite remarkable book. The story of the genesis and establishment of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC, USA.The subtext of the title says "Art, Memory and the Fight for a Vietnam War Memorial."It is a complex issue and a deep scar in the American psyche. Not surprising given the political fall out of a conflict they government loss the ability to win, the honesty to admit its futility and the courage to withdraw in terms of saving combat lives rather than face.It is a book that might not immediately appeal to me but kept me engrossed throughout not to take sides but to understand both arguments. In essence how could a national memorial be representative of a defeat, a waste of a country's youth and a reflect those from the anti-war lobby.Brilliantly written, with an independent voice that has the measure of all aspects of the struggle to remember those that died and those who dodged the draft. But it also gives great insight into the world of art and design. The chance for serendipity when a competition is launched and the potential winner being an unknown graduate student. How one person's version can move a nation. How a memorial can salve wounds and heal memory sufficient to finally move on.The aspects of a national consciousness and a corporate meaning and that of an individual were well discussed and explored beyond what was immediately seen. That use of sensual responses to a slab of black granite rather than to regurgitate the past. It strikes me that is the principle role of art design in the widest sense, through architecture, the use of landscape and the focus of remembrance.I enjoyed the summery of the difficult years between the concept and its construction. It was good that the story of the major players continued in the epilogue.Finally I found it absolutely fitting that the author revealed his own journey and associations with that War. I loved his trip of remembrance and physical attachment to the wall.I love books that point to other works you may be interested in, the authors other works may also now pique my desire further. It is also good to be reminded of books you have previously read like Perfume River by Robert Olen Butler in the grand scale of things it shows me why it was such an emotional aspect of his novel.Finally this is a book of academic value and standing in its range and delivery. However, at no time did it seem dry and part of a study project as it reads like the best fiction and with the same drivers.more
- January 1, 1970MacI came to A Rift in the Earth with a preconception to like the book before reading it. Some reasons: The Vietnam Memorial is among the most moving architectural achievements I have experienced. Additionally, I have always wanted to learn more about the arguments for and against the abstract wall vs representational statues. And sadly, I have a deep emotional attachment to the memorial because a dear friend's name is on the wall (February 17, 1968); my visits to the memorial have been a source of I came to A Rift in the Earth with a preconception to like the book before reading it. Some reasons: The Vietnam Memorial is among the most moving architectural achievements I have experienced. Additionally, I have always wanted to learn more about the arguments for and against the abstract wall vs representational statues. And sadly, I have a deep emotional attachment to the memorial because a dear friend's name is on the wall (February 17, 1968); my visits to the memorial have been a source of sorrow even after all these years.And the result? The book is a good read that delivers on its promise. It is informative, clearly organized, deeply researched, reasonably objective in its (tilting negative) assessment of the war, and full of anecdotes as well as you-are-there descriptions of the debates surrounding the construction of the memorial. In particular, I learned about the designer, Maya Lin, her inexperience, her vision for the wall, her personality, and her challenging interactions with others on the project. And before reading the book, I had known nothing about Frederick Hart, who created the three soldiers added to the memorial; his character, interests, and philosophy are fully explained. So there's lots to learn and appreciate in A Rift in the Earth; not to mention the book is full of photographs showing Lin's (extremely abstract) design submission as well as numerous other designers' entries in the competition. So for me, preconception and reading result converged. A Rift in the Earth enlightened me, even surprised me, about the architecture, the design competition, as well as the condemnation and praise for the wall. Particularly I learned about the battles over wall vs statues. Reston poses this conflict as classical (representational) vs modern (abstract), and that's an informative frame for understanding. I have long considered the difference in a Myers-Briggs framework--intuitive vs sensing--and I wish Reston had also delved into this analysis as well. Last point. This is a rational book, a clear, logical analysis. Reston does explore the feelings of the many constituencies--the veterans and the defectors, the artists and the politicians, the traditionalists and the modernists, the pro and anti war factions; and he makes clear how heated were the debates among competing viewpoints. But somehow the book informed me but didn't move me emotionally. Maybe that's because I left my feelings in Washington standing before the wall.more
- January 1, 1970DaveThis is a comprehensive look back at the the design process of the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial. The author tells the story very well, and the story flows through the book.I recommend this book for anybody who is interested in the Memorial or how American dealt with the aftermath of the war decade after it ended.more
- January 1, 1970Len Robertoilluminating book about the controversy of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial...art and culture, well done!
- January 1, 1970SteveA straightforward but overall interesting history of the controversy surrounding the creation of the Vietnam War Memorial.
- January 1, 1970Jim JaqcobsAgree with Ken Burns. It is a superb book, riveting and revelatory.Jim
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