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Picks and Pans Review: Aftershocks: a Tale of Two Victims

updated 12/15/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/15/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

by David Haward Bain

In April 1977 a 17-year-old Vietnamese refugee was raped and killed near her family's apartment in Queens, N.Y. The confessed killer was Louis Kahan, an ex-Marine who had served in Vietnam. Bain, a journalist and former antiwar activist, has meticulously documented the personal and historic forces behind the crime. The son of a habitually unemployed father and a self-pitying mother, Kahan grew up a borderline delinquent. In 1964, after quitting high school, he joined the Marines and spent a scarring year in Danang in 1966. Never a stable personality, after his honorable discharge Kahan suffered delusions of being back in the war. At the height of his paranoia he chanced upon a woman he imagined was a Vietcong soldier. It was the victim, Le My Hanh, the only member of her studious and close-knit family really eager to emigrate to the U.S. after Saigon fell. Although Bain's re-creation of the trial is overlong and his prose is uneven, Aftershocks neither sentimentalizes the Le family nor condones Kahan's crime. With resonances beyond the narrow subject, his reportage amplifies the human cost of a long, hellish conflict. (Methuen, $11.95)

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