Saturday, August 15, 2020

Book Review: The Journalist by Jerry A. Rose & Lucy Rose Fischer

The Journalist: Life Lost in America's Secret War is a memoir about the life of Jerry A. Rose. With the help of his sister, Lucy, Jerry's story is shared with the world decades after his death. I found this book most intriguing because it allows readers to take a glimpse of what occurred in the 1960s during Vietnam. Through Jerry's lenses, readers are introduced to what few Americans knew was occurring across the world. Jerry's passion to write took him from North America to Asia. 

I enjoyed the reading The Journalist: Life Lost in America's Secret War for so many reasons. His writing is almost poetic as he explains his travels around Asia while pursuing his dream and passion to be a writer. Jerry's passion for writing and for exposing what was happening in Vietnam is felt through every word and every page. At times, I felt like I was reading the diary of a good friend, who wanted to keep me abreast of what was happening in his life. 

As I read the book, I always felt sorry for his wife, Kay. I can only imagine how heavy her heart was each and every time that he left to "chase a new story." However, I loved how she supported his dream to write and "get in the trenches." When Jerry wrote, " For the first time in my life, I feel like I have a helpmate, which is amazing and liberating." I felt this quote. Also, I knew that their love was true.

Excerpt from The Journalist

When I read that he was going to accept a teaching position in Vietnam, I knew that this story would keep me engaged. I was not disappointed. This memoir provided an intriguing view of Vietnam and the Vietnam War. I've heard stories from my parents, but reading about it from a journalist's perspective left me desiring to know more. 

The month of November is perfect for reading this book. This year marks the 65th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War (November 1, 1955). Also, Veterans Day is celebrated on November 11, 2020. 

I am so glad that Lucy shared her brother's memoir with the world. The Journalist: Life Lost in America's Secret War is truly a great read, and I highly recommend it. Below, I share more information about the book, and I include a question and answer session with Lucy, Jerry's sister. 

Jerry Rose, as a young journalist in Vietnam in the early 1960s, was an intimate witness to the beginnings of the tragedy that became America’s Vietnam War. This riveting memoir is a chronicle of ambition, war, love, and loss.” - Judy Bernstein, author of They Poured Fire on Usand Disturbed in Their Nests
This memoir is a must-read for those who want to see, hear, and feel Vietnam in the turbulent and secretive 1960s.” - Professor James B. Wells, Eastern Kentucky University

About the Book:

Purchase The Journalist

In the early 1960s, Jerry Rose, a writer and artist, travels to Vietnam to teach English and gather material for his 
writing. Almost accidentally, he becomes one of America’s most important war correspondents. He interviews Vietnamese villagers in a countryside riddled by a war of terror and embeds himself with soldiers on the ground—the start of a dramatic and dangerous career. Through his stories and photographs, he exposes the secret beginnings of America’s Vietnam War at a time when most Americans have not yet heard of Vietnam. His writing is described as “war reporting that ranks with the best of Ernest Hemingway and Ernie Pyle.” In spring 1965, Jerry agrees to serve as an advisor to the Vietnamese government at the invitation of his friend and former doctor, who is the new Prime Minister. He hopes to use his deep knowledge of the country to help Vietnam. In September 1965, while on a trip to investigate corruption in the provinces of Vietnam, Jerry dies in a plane crash in Vietnam. Now, more than half a century later, his sister, Lucy Rose Fischer, has drawn on her
 late brother’s journals, letters, and other writings to craft his story. She has written this memoir in “collaboration” with her late brother—giving the term “ghostwritten” a whole new meaning. 

Jerry Rose

About the Authors:

Jerry A. Rose published feature articles and photographs in TIME, The New York Times, The Saturday Evening Post, New Republic, The Reporter, and other news venues. He authored two books: Reported to be Alive and Face of Anguish, a book of his photographs. He was one of the most accomplished journalists of his time. Lucy Rose Fischer, Jerry’s younger sister, an award-winning Minnesota author, artist, and social scientist is the author of five previous books: Linked Lives: Adult Daughters and Their Mothers; Older Minnesotans; Older Volunteers; I’m New at Being Old; and Grow Old With Me, as well as more than 100 professional research articles. She has a Ph.D. in sociology and an MA in Asian Studies.

Lucy Rose Fischer

Connect with Lucy Rose Fischer


Question and Answer: Lucy Rose Fischer

What inspired your story?

I had the first spark of an idea for a book on my brother sometime in the mid- to late 1980s. I was at a life history conference in St Antonio, TX where I heard an author (it might have been Tim O’Brien) sharing his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam. I thought my brother’s story would be different. 

My big brother, Jerry Rose, was a journalist in Vietnam in the early 1960s. He also served for a while as an advisor to the Vietnamese Prime Minister. 

When my brother died there in 1965 in a plane crash, he left behind a treasure trove of journals, letters, and other writings—all of which my sister-in-law had carefully saved. He was only 31.

So, when did you start writing this book?

I’ve been working on this book for a very long time. I think I wrote the first draft around 1990. I had a job directing research studies and took half-time off for seven months to work on the book. I wrote the first draft as a biography. 

I was a PhD sociologist, so I approached this book as I had my other books that were research studies. But the manuscript needed a lot of work and I ran out of time. I had to get back to my paid career.

My sister-in-law had helped copy hundreds of pages of my brother’s writing. But she was uncomfortable with my telling so much about her life. She was a shy person. 

I ended up putting the book project aside for 25 years. Everything sat in two big file drawers.

When did you come back to the project?

It was after my sister-in-law died and their daughter and son were planning to send all his papers to the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. I started pulling out my old manuscript and copies of other documents and got excited all over again about my brother’s story. 

My brother was a fascinating person. He was a painter and a writer. Going to Vietnam was a way to gather material for his art and his fiction.  Initially, he was hired to teach English at the University of Hue. Vietnam had been a French colony, and Jerry spoke French because he had studied at the Sorbonne. He quickly became immersed in Vietnam and the Vietnamese people. He had a Vietnamese blood brother and was adopted into their family.

He became a journalist almost by accident when a friend asked him to take over his position as a stringer—a freelance journalist. 

He did his own photography—because he was also an artist. 

Where were his stories published?

For much of the time, he was a stringer—so he wrote for different publications—Time, The New York Times, The Reporter, New Republic, and The Saturday Evening Post. He even did some broadcasts for ABC News – though my family never caught any of his live broadcasts. For a while, he had a staff position at Time-Life, but he found Time too conservative and constricting. 

He published the first major story about US troops fighting in Vietnam – it was a cover story for The Saturday Evening Post, with his color photos. He liked to follow stories on his own—embed himself with troops and interview villagers. That was pretty unusual for his time. 

He also published fiction in literary magazines. Just before he died, he had two books published —one was a book of photographs, Face of Anguish, and the other, Reported to Be Alive, was a book about an NBC cameraman who had been held captive by communist guerrillas in Laos. He was the ghost writer for that book.  

Are you a ghost-writer for your brother’s book?

I think this book gives a whole new meaning to the term “ghost-written.” I’ve written this book in my brother’s voice and listed him as first author.

My brother was a wonderful writer, so chunks of the book are drawn from his journals and letters. But a lot of the writing is mine. 

It was an unusual choice to write this in his voice. It was his story and I wanted him to tell his own story, in the form of a memoir. I wrote it in present tense, as if the reader would be experiencing events along with him. That also felt right to me—because I had written my last two books in present tense.

My brother had been my mentor. He encouraged me to write. 

The odd thing was—it was as if he trained me to do this—to write this book for him. While I was working on this, I felt that he was sitting on my shoulder and whispering in my ear. I could hear his voice.

What was your relationship like with your brother?

We had a very special relationship. He was eleven years older and almost a quasi-father—but a distant quasi-father because he left for college when I was only seven.

When I was a little girl and he’d come home, he would read poetry to me. When I was a teenager, he gave me long reading lists and he critiqued my writing. 

I visited him and his family in Asia while he was there.

A couple weeks before he died, he sent me a very long letter with all sorts of advice. I was turning 21 and just about to get married and he wrote how important it was for a woman to have a career independent of her husband. This was in 1965—a feminist and unusual perspective for that time.

Did you follow his advice?

I really did. In fact, I decided to get a Masters in Asian Studies at UC Berkeley. And later, a PhD in Sociology. My brother has had a huge influence on me, all my life.

My career has been different from my brother’s. And I’ve lived much, much longer than he did. 

Where did you grow up and where are you living now? 

 Both my brother and I grew up in Gloversville—a small town in Upper New York State, north of Albany. It’s a pretty conservative small town, and not doing well economically.  But it’s a lovely area, in the foothills of the Adirondacks.

I’ve been living in Minneapolis for the last 40 years. I had a long career as a sociologist, specializing in the study of aging. A little more than 15 years ago, I decided to launch a career as an artist. I started painting upside down, inside out and backwards on hand blown glass. 

A lot of my work is very colorful and whimsical, and a lot is about growing older. My last two books are whimsical picture books for adults—I’M NEW AT BEING OLD and GROW OLD WITH ME. Both books have won awards.

What do you think your brother would say about your new book—THE JOURNALIST?

This book is coming out almost exactly 55 years after Jerry died. I think my brother would wonder – “What took you so long?”
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