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2017 Reading Challenge

Jill Elizabeth has read 2 books toward her goal of 150 books.
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Interview with Terence Harkin, Author of The Big Buddha Bicycle Race

An Interview with Author Terence A. Harkin

Can you tell us a little about the book?
Well, the setting is upcountry Thailand and war-ravaged Laos late in the Vietnam War. On one level it’s a cross-cultural wartime love story. That means exploring Asian-American cultural misunderstanding on the personal level, which can be painful, and on the large scale, where it proved to be catastrophic, especially for the people of Laos, which was devastated by the war and then forgotten.

It’s also a surreal remembrance of two groups who have been erased from American history—the active-duty soldiers who risked prison by taking part in the GI anti-war movement and the air commandos who risked death night after night flying over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In The Big Buddha Bicycle Race, the twain meet.

“An excellent, thoughtful book about the Vietnam War.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)


Where did the title come from?
It was rainy season in Ubon. We were cooped up in the Rat Pack editorial trailer and Air Force Radio announces an upcoming sightseeing tour to Big Buddha, one of the few sights worth seeing in Ubon Province at the time. We kidded around about a bike race being more sanuk than a bus trip, but that was the end of it. It’s about the only thing in the novel that didn’t happen. But that little germ of an idea stuck with me. In 1972, the year after I returned from Ubon, South Vietnam nearly fell and four of the sixteen AC-130 gunships I had been working with—carrying crews of fifteen to eighteen—were shot down. There were only a couple of survivors—after two years when gunships had operated with impunity, destroying as many as 30,000 trucks on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

I started asking a lot of “what if” and “why” questions, two big ones being “what if I had been a cameraman on one of those gunships?” and “why were the North Vietnamese still able to mount a major offensive after we had decimated their supply convoys?” And I started asking myself, “what if the race had happened?” I started seeing it as an allegory. The United States might have gone to war with good intentions. But it all went horribly wrong thanks to overkill that turned friends into enemies and thanks to a tragic misunderstanding of Asian culture and history.

“Postmodern and poetic, heartfelt and compassionate, full of sad longing and dawning awareness.”
—Jeanne Rosenberg, screenwriter of The Black Stallion and Natty Gann

Terry earned a BA in English Lit from Brown University in the late Sixties while drumming with bands that opened for The Yardbirds, the Critters, and Jimi Hendrix. His award-winning play, Resurrection, was produced during his senior year. In the US Air Force, despite writing for GI underground newspapers stateside, he was asked to write the 1971 History of Detachment 3, 601st Photo Flight while stationed at Ubon RTAFB, Thailand. He won a CBS Fellowship for his screenwriting while completing an MFA at the University of Southern California and went on to spend twenty-five years as a Hollywood cameraman. His credits include The Goodbye Girl, The Legend of Billie Jean, Quincy, Designing Women, Seinfeld, Tracy Ullman, MASH, and From Here to Eternity. He is currently living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and working on a sequel, The Bronze Begging Bowl. For more information, visit his Web site: taharkin.net.

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2 comments to Interview with Terence Harkin, Author of The Big Buddha Bicycle Race

  • Thanks, Jill-Elizabeth! Big Buddha has now been nominated for the 2017 Kirkus Prize and will be released in U.S. bookstores in February of 2018 by Swallow, an imprint of Ohio University Press

    • admin

      You are most welcome, and congratulations Terence! That’s fantastic… Best of luck to you and thank you for taking the time to let us know about the nomination and release – definitely stop back and let us know how they go!

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