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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Twilight in Saigon by Zev Cohen is a mix of short stories and one short novella that covers the whole gamut of human emotions and experiences. If there is one feature that ties these disparate ideas together it is probably the bittersweet nature of the message. Where there is hope and where there is love, there can also be despair and hatred. The nature of the stories, many focused on the travails of people who are displaced or separated from their lives, crosses genres - from the past of World War II in When Darkness is Gone to the painful memories of a Ukrainian Jewish child when the Nazis came town in “Duvid” to the present; revisiting the past that was the Vietnam War in Twilight in Saigon to the distant future in several science fiction stories, such as in Mission Outer Drivonia; and in Death to the Mindcrimes, a play on the North Korean regime, and the fictional ‘Illustrious Guide’, a thinly veiled jibe at the North Korean regime; and in between a collection of the past, the present and the future that is as eclectic and varied as they come.
Not generally a short story reader, I found Twilight in Saigon a completely riveting and absorbing read. Author Zev Cohen has managed to combine the two most important features of a short story into almost all of the narratives in this book; the ability to impart a message or a moral in the story and the skill to engage a reader and have that reader empathize or feel deep emotion with a character in a short time frame. Zev Cohen achieves this magnificently. I particularly loved that the collection often focused on characters who were displaced in some way in their environments, either physically or emotionally. This gave them a vulnerability that resonated with me. In any collection, there are always bound to be one or two stories that touch the reader more than the others. For me, the two stories that hit home the most were the main story, Twilight in Saigon, and Refugee. I particularly enjoyed Twilight in Saigon because of the intensely bittersweet nature of the tale and the knowledge that this story was probably reminiscent of so many soldiers and civilians who were part of the Vietnam War (and other conflicts) and who have been haunted by their experiences there and what they left behind for so very long. Refugee’s appeal was in the understanding that it is not only Palestinians who have been displaced in the long-standing conflict but that the struggle for survival is real for everyone caught up in this conflict. There is genuinely something for everyone in this collection and I can highly recommend it.