Hero Mama:
A Daughter Remembers
the Father She Lost in Vietnam—
and the Mother Who Held Her Family Together

by Karen Spears Zacharias

William Morrow, 2005. ISBN 0060721480.
Reviewed by Robin Edgar
Posted on 03/14/2006

Nonfiction: Memoir

Karen Spears was nine years old when her father was killed in action in Vietnam. In her book, Hero Mama, she takes you by the hand and invites you to re-journey through her life, revealing her sometimes self-imposed rollercoaster ride without her father.

Recounting her father's last wish for her not to cry because it upset her mother, the author describes the emotional stew of guilt and shame and anger that confused her from childhood. Through an array of family characters and their deeds and misdeeds, the reader sees firsthand, how devastating the loss of a loved one can be. She writes, "Truth is, after Daddy died, none of us could think too clearly anymore."

Describing her childhood fears and expectations, Spears Zacharias sometimes takes you where you would rather not go. Her narrative, relentless and unguarded, views the world through the eyes of a confused child as she views her father's open casket; an angry teen as she rebels against her mother's choices in dealing with grief; and an adult determined to go to Vietnam to find the answers to unspoken questions about how and where her father died.

For me, having grown up during the time of war in Vietnam, this book opened my eyes to the domino effect on a family and society of losing a loved one in the military. As the mother of a daughter married to a military man and pregnant with my first grandchild, it gave me insight into how strong our family ties must be to survive.

As many children do, the author somehow blamed herself for his death and struggled with his absence, even into her adulthood. Often shouldering the burden of the family caretaker, she held a grudge against her father for dying and against her mother for moving on. Although she has reconciled many of her memories now that she has viewed them through adult eyes, she still weeps for her father: "Even today, Mama is troubled by my tears."

Those of us who participate in story circles know there is great healing in the telling of our stories. In spite of her tears, Spears Zacharias appears to have found her peace through the telling of her story. Through her book, she encourages others to find theirs as well.

A paperback edition titled After the Flag Has Been Folded is scheduled for release in May 2006.

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