Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Gods Go Begging

By Ann Peterpaul

NOVEMBER 29, 1999: 

Gods Go Begging by Alfredo Véa (Dutton), hardback, $24.95

This book is the story of a man grappling with the indelible mark left on him by the Vietnam War. Two women -- one African American, the other Vietnamese -- are brutally murdered on Potrero Hill, a desolate zone of San Francisco. Jesse Pasadoble, a Vietnam veteran, becomes the defense lawyer for one of the accused killers. The two women are depicted as pure souls who are still waiting for their husbands to return from Vietnam, even though they're presumed dead. Véa writes of the women's deaths in that sordid landscape with a poet's sensitivity and a reverential tone.

As Jesse explores the bizarre aspects of this murder, the reader discovers that this is a man terribly tormented by the ghosts of that war -- he seems to wander somewhere in purgatory. He lives his life and works at his job like any other mortal, but is incapable of profound love. Great commitment is shown to all the poor and marginalized who have to rely on public defenders like himself. As a young infantry soldier, Jesse was in a hellish battle on a hill near the Laotian border -- something beyond description and beyond understanding. It left its monstrous brand.

The murders of the women on Potrero Hill and the massacre on that other bloody hill some 30 years prior are intimately connected in ways that are very tangible and real. Véa uses everything at his disposal, including flourishes of magical realism, to explain the slow metamorphosis that Jesse undergoes until he is purged. Like sacrificial victims, two innocent, healthy women had to die for that to happen.

Out of the mouths of the soldiers on that hill come astute commentary and deep philosophizing. Why were they fighting a people who had never done anything to them? What would the U.S. have been like if the Puritan mentality hadn't prevailed, if the French had dominated, or if Mexico had been able to maintain a real stronghold?

This book is a kaleidoscope of fierce emotions with an intriguing plot. It's a little tour de force.

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