Letting Go: Reviews

America every year spends a moment in June remembering D-Day.

It’s a sentimental time. Our young soldiers who survived the war grew old. Most are gone. What they did was historic. The U.S. Army, put ashore in France with its back against the Atlantic Ocean, went after and defeated the Nazis.

Most of the memories extol a grand crusade against fascism by the citizen soldiers of the Western democracies. There’s another chapter that’s seldom told, another book, really. It tells what came after.

If you’re interested, you might like an earthy and honest novel titled “Letting Go” by the Indianapolis author Abe Aamidor. It is not a war story but is still a fitting read to commemorate June 6, 1944, D-Day, the day the U.S. Army led Allied forces ashore in France.

The narrator of Abe Aamidor’s new novel Letting Go, Dwight Bogdanovic, is deeply nostalgic in his recollections of the ’50s. But he is smart enough to know that being romantic about the past will just lead him in circles. At points in the novel, you wonder if Dwight will have the sense to move on with his life or else just get swallowed in the eddies of his past.

“Letting Go” is set in an ordinary Midwestern city in the 2010 decade. At the center is a softball-playing man of middle age. His grandfather fought in World War I and came home. His father, a railroad mechanic, fought in World War II and came home. His own son, an enlisted soldier in the U.S. Army, fought and was lost in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Right here I have to say I know Aamidor. We wrote a book about the country’s industrial cities — “At the Crossroads: Middle America and the Battle to Save the Car Industry.” We’re friends, yes, though I would say even if we were not, Aamidor is worth reading, partly because he is a smart observer of America, partly because he is the father of a career soldier.

The book starts with the dad’s grief, but doesn’t dwell there. In simple, humble words, the story unfolds about the dad, who he is, what he thinks, what happened to his town over the decades, and how he goes about playing in his softball league, volunteering at the election station, caring for his sick wife, volunteering at the airport USO room where traveling service members can stop in for snacks and beverages.

Aamidor has here a portrait of an everyday America reminiscent of the great novels of early 20th century Chicago by James T. Farrell, whose writings include “No Star Is Lost.” There is fine storytelling in “Letting Go” and a quiet message that echoes off the late author Paul Fussell Jr., himself a rifle-clutching American infantryman who went ashore on D-Day.

Fussell came home to teach college and write scholarly nonfiction that sheers away the sentimental. His work includes the book, “Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War.”  Fussell says war etches its way into a country’s people.

“The damage the war visited on bodies and buildings, planes and tanks and ships, is obvious,” Fussell writes. “Less obvious is the damage it did to intellect, discrimination, honesty, individuality, complexity, ambiguity and irony, not to mention privacy and wit. For the past 50 years the Allied war has been sanitized and romanticized almost beyond recognition by the sentimental, the loony patriotic, the ignorant and the bloodthirsty.”

Fussell says the war irretrievably coarsened our society. Aamidor says we still have to find our way and do what we can. A dozen years ago I was changing planes in Frankfurt, Germany, and saw young men in jeans scattered among the tourist families and business travelers. I can’t say how, but you knew the young men were Americans and you knew they were coming from or going to the war. A woman in a neat suit walked up to one of the tan strangers, told him in clear American English: “Thank you for your service.” I always wondered what happened to him. “Letting Go” picks up that thread.

When the son, Bertrand, visits on leave, the dad asks him how long he intends to stay in the Army — “‘I mean, it’s important work you’re doing isn’t it?’ He was just silent, looking around at the boughs in the trees and any little floating thing in the warm air around us. ‘Is it a calling? Is that why you stay in?'”

Bertrand immediately mentions a 19th century Russian novel, “Fathers and Sons” by Ivan Turgenev. “He told me he’d read it straight through one night in Afghanistan after a load of books came in via a library in Pennsylvania. His copy was a hardback and still had the old-fashioned library card and pockets with dates going back many years. Bertrand wanted to know what I thought of the book.”

What the son really wanted was to speak of the nihilism — the idea life has no meaning — evident in one character: “Science only mattered to him because you could at least document things, actually prove things, and maybe even change outcomes in the real world if you were of a mind to. He liked science because it gets results. But war gets results, too, you know. It’s everything else that is just talk. That’s what nihilism really is.”

Since we set out to fight global terrorism in 2001, America as a society undoubtedly has been shaped by the long experience. Aamidor’s work is one of the better pieces to come along in our time and explain who we are and how we keep going. It isn’t a war story. It is a story of what comes next.

-Ted Evanoff, business columnist of The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal

And this narrative tension, in part, is why the novel is so engaging. Letting Go is also a quick read because of the author’s keen observational skills, which he brings to bear–with both affection and dry humor–on the city of Indianapolis, which might be unfamiliar literary territory for most.

But this meditation on fathers and sons, on loss, and on the passage of time, should feel familiar to its readers because Dwight Bogdanovic is an authentic literary creation who reflects the struggles that we all have at some point in our lives.

-Dan Grossman, Arts Editor, NUVO Newsweekly (Indianapolis)

His grandfather served in an engineering unit in France in World War I. His father was a paratrooper badly wounded in World War II. But Indiana native Dwight Bogdanovic didn’t follow family tradition and join the military. A 1-Y deferment for scoliosis kept him from being drafted during the Vietnam War.

Bogdanovic is the narrator of Abe Aamidor’s new novel, Letting Go (The Permanent Press, 192 pp. $29.95, hardcover; $9.99, Kindle). Aamidor, a former journalist, is the author of a novel, short stories, and nonfiction works including Chuck Taylor, All Star: The True Story of the Man Behind the Most Famous Athletic Shoe in History.

After dropping out of Indiana State University in 1968, Bogdanovic sold encyclopedias. He shared a house for three years with two other guys, one of whom was a Vietnam War veteran named Hank who became a security guard and sped around in a Harley in his free time. Hank was “seemingly uncomplicated,” Aamidor writes, but also would “sit up suddenly in bed in the middle of the night and look around, demand to know who was out there, even call out to his buddies to get their guns.”

Bogdanovic moves from address to address, and job to job, winding up as clerk at a sporting goods store. Relatively late in life, he and his wife, Thetis, have a son, Bertrand, who carries on the family’s martial tradition. The seventeen-year-old enlists in the Army following the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“I knew all along he’d be going in,” his father says. “It was in the way he’d discuss famous battles in history and in some of the books he’d read, such as Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead and Going After Cacciato, by Tim O’Brien, although neither was a gung-ho, go get ’em, John Wayne flag waver. Quite the contrary. It was just that Bertrand always took the side of those who would stand tall.”

Bertrand conducts covert operations in Afghanistan and receives several medals. On the first page of the novel we learn that he died overseas. The manner of his death remains a mystery: “The government,” Aamidor writes, “would only say he was KIA, killed in action, the bare outline of a dagger by his name in all the official documents.”

Ultimately, the book examines life in general, and Bogdanovic is an Everyman who reflects on his experiences in a self-effacing way, providing no more than tentative answers to questions that have perplexed philosophers for centuries. The American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are just one concern of Letting Go—to an extent, they represent all combat. Throughout, Aamidor refers to both world wars and the Vietnam War, as well as the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and Korean War.

What makes for a rewarding day-to-day existence? Being attentive to one’s thoughts, perhaps—honesty, too, and showing appropriate gratitude. But Bernard’s relentless pursuit of results? Perhaps not.

–Angus Paul, Reviewer, The VVA Veteran

In high school, Abe Aamidor won a prestigious national high school contest sponsored by novelist Norman Mailer when he was an Esquire columnist. Like most bright teenagers with a flair for writing, he had dreams of being a novelist.

“One thing happened after another, and it never happened,” said Aamidor, who attended the University of Chicago. “By the ‘70s, I started writing for the Reader, the alternative paper in Chicago. So, I became a newspaper writer. I never wrote fiction, but I wanted to be a (literary) writer.”

Aamidor admitted in his arrogance of youth, he thought it was going to be easier then.

“So, in retirement I had to see if I could have done it,” Aamidor said. “My intention was to get one short story published in a literary magazine.”

So, when the Carmel resident retired from The Indianapolis Star in 2008, he wanted to see if he could have some level of success as a fiction writer.

“In three years, I placed 11 or 12 short stories,” Aamidor said.

Aamidor’s novel “Letting Go” is set to be released Aug. 8 through The Permanent Press. It has been released on audiobook by Blackstone Publishing.

“It’s set in Indianapolis, and some of it is set in Chicago where I mostly grew up so it would ring true so I wouldn’t get the wrong building on the wrong street or refer to something that’s not there,” Aamidor said. “There are usually two types on war, one is very stridently anti-war, and we should never let it happen again. There is a moral point being made. The others are in literary form, a John Wayne-kind of thing. It’s gung-ho, heroism or survival. I wanted something a little different, neither strident or gung-ho. There is no violence. I wanted it (to be) about middle-class people.”

The story is about a high school graduate named Bertrand Bogdanovich, who decided to enlist in the military after the Sept. 11 attacks but gets involved in shady activities after he’s in the army and dies mysteriously in Afghanistan. His father, Dwight, a blue collar-worker in the train yard in Beech Grove, tries to find out what happens. The story is told from Dwight’s perspective.           

Aamidor’s son, David, 34, is a major in Army Aviation, stationed in the state of Washington.

This is Aamidor’s second novel. His first, “Monastery of Writers,” was a print-on-demand publication. It is a  fictionalized story of writers taking over the French Lick monastery.

Aamidor has previously written a biography of Chuck Taylor, “Chuck Taylor: Converse All-Star.”

-Mark Ambrogi, Reviewer, youarecurrent.com

How do you measure a life? Is it simply the sum of events, relationships, decisions? Will it finish too late or too soon, like a book badly written? And who will value the life? In the first chapter of Abe Aamidor’s Letting Go, a bereaved father quotes a friend of Bertrand Russell saying, “Your life matters because you did live it.” But his son Bertrand has died in Afghanistan. Will the father’s life still matter? Reading like a gorgeously written memoir, Letting Go retells the son’s life together with father’s and grandfather’s, through snapshots of people from different worlds, drawn together in America’s melting pot, sent to fight for great causes, and coming home again. Except the father sold encyclopedias and the son didn’t come home. Convincing first-person narration brings to life, and vividly contrasts, teenage days of cycling and the present-day voice of an old man viewing his “fitness goal.” The “black blooming smell of soil after heavy rain,” is contrasted with city streets where “buildings have… personalities,” the regrets of the past with a desire to matter in the present, and the certainties of official voices with the nuanced nature of relationships. Birds are evicted from their trees, tribes from their land, and a man from the life he thought he’d built for himself. Small actions have large consequences, in life and in this novel, like concrete filling the space between wooden blocks to keep an old building standing, or memories tucked in the cracks of a sacred wall. Meanwhile a man, not yet so old, seeks a way forward that’s not so tied after all to the past. Only then can he truly look back and value those memories for what they are, proof that “life is for the living.”

-Sheila Deeth, popular book reviewer & blogger