Book: Falling Through the Earth Host Liane Hansen speaks with author Danielle Trussoni about her book, Falling Through the Earth, a memoir of her relationship with her father, a Vietnam veteran.

Book: Falling Through the Earth

Book: Falling Through the Earth

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Host Liane Hansen speaks with author Danielle Trussoni about her book, Falling Through the Earth, a memoir of her relationship with her father, a Vietnam veteran.


Danielle Trussoni is the spitting image of her mother, but she's very much her father's daughter. Danielle's parents divorced when she was 11. She chose to live with her father. Dan Trussoni fought in Vietnam and he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Those war experiences that so deeply affected Dan Trussoni would also color his daughter's childhood. Danielle's memoir, "Falling Through the Earth," describes how her father's war also became her own.

Danielle Trussoni is in our studios in New York. Welcome to the program.

Ms. DANIELLE TRUSSONI (Author, "Falling Through the Earth"): Thanks for having me.

HANSEN: First, give us a little of your dad's biography. He was what, born in Wisconsin, he was a draftee, he went to Vietnam in 1968, can you elaborate on all of that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TRUSSONI: Sure. Absolutely. He was born in Wisconsin in a small town called Genoa. And he was drafted in 1967, and went early 1968 to Vietnam, where he immediately volunteered to be a tunnel rat. The Vietcong had built an elaborate system of tunnels underneath the ground, and U.S. soldiers would go down to plumb these tunnels. They would find papers and sometimes Vietcong themselves. And that the tunnels were booby trapped and so when my father volunteered to go down, it was actually an extremely dangerous undertaking - one that affected his experience in Vietnam quite a bit.

HANSEN: Create a picture for us of Roscoe's. This is a bar where your dad would go and he'd drink brandy and Coke over crushed ice, if I'm not mistaken. And at the time, you could not have been higher than a barstool. Is this where you began to hear his stories, eavesdropped on his conversations?

Ms. TRUSSONI: It was. And to just paint a picture - a general picture of Roscoe's - we would walk in, and it would be this, sort of, dark, smoky bar with taxidermy hanging on the walls and the jukebox always going and we knew everybody there. There was a, sort of, sense of community there, but that's where - after my father had been drinking, he would often revert to his memories of the war.

HANSEN: Did you understand how deeply the war affected him? Could you have at 11-years-old?

Ms. TRUSSONI: I didn't. No, I had no idea. Actually, the way that I phrased it to myself and in "Falling Through the Earth" is that the war was just something that happened to my family. I didn't really see it as something that I could explain. And I even didn't really understand the photographs that I found - my father had taken a lot of photographs of Vietcong soldiers that he had killed and the men in his platoon had killed. And he kept these photographs and there were many, many, many of them in a box in our basement.

And I had found them when I was about five years old. And knowing that my father had taken part in the process of killing these men, and then he actually had kept the pictures and, sort of, cherished them in a perverse way was very upsetting to me even at five. And even though I didn't understand what all of it meant, I knew that that was something that wasn't good.

HANSEN: Did your dad talk about the things that scared you? Did you tell him that you had seen the photographs and maybe wanted to know more about his experiences?

Ms. TRUSSONI: I never had that, sort of, conversation with him about, you know, for example, how I felt about seeing those pictures. He knew I had seen them. I had mentioned them to him. And also when I was in college, I was a history major at the University of Wisconsin and I had - and I interviewed him pretty extensively and taped our conversations. Then it was then that I actually had him pull out the photographs and, sort of, show me piece by piece, you know, who - where these where taken and when and try to get all of his memories about the photographs. But that was really the only time that we discussed it. He never felt remorse in the way that I think that I wanted him to feel remorse about those deaths. And I guess, you know, a soldier can't.

HANSEN: What was his response when you said you wanted to interview him?

Ms. TRUSSONI: It was fine with him when I wanted to interview him. He wanted to help me out with school, I think. During the process, though, it became much more fraught and more emotional. And I found that he would often change the stories that I had heard as a child or when he had been drinking and make them maybe less devastating.

HANSEN: You went to Vietnam and you followed in his footsteps, literally.

Ms. TRUSSONI: I did.

HANSEN: You went to one of the tunnels?

Ms. TRUSSONI: I did. They have - the Vietnamese government has set up a, sort of, tourist event around the tunnels. You can take a bus down to Cu Chi, and you can go through the tunnels and I did. I went into a couple of different tunnels with a tour guide.

HANSEN: Did you understand more about him then doing that?

Ms. TRUSSONI: I think so. I think part of being a writer is mimicking how another person feels in order to feel that same emotion or sensation. And so when I went into the tunnel, and I could feel how hot it was. And I could feel the claustrophobia and I could see ahead that there was just nothingness. I knew for, you know, maybe just a fraction of a second how my father felt. And that made a world of difference for me.

HANSEN: What kind of relationship did you have with your father when you were living with him?

Ms. TRUSSONI: We had a - it was more like we were buddies, I think, you know? My dad was not a great caregiver. He didn't really know how to do all of the things that parents do.

HANSEN: What kind of relationship did you have with your father as an adult, when you became an adult?

Ms. TRUSSONI: My father, I felt very close to him as a child. And even as an adult I felt close to him, but when I started to become me and, you know, this sort of inventing who I was. And it was very much a different person than he was. I was in love with books. I was in love with traveling. I wanted to be a writer. I had all of these plans that my father couldn't understand. We really diverged in a lot of ways. He became, I think, afraid that I would judge him. I remember at the very end of his life, he said to me, you've always looked down on me because I'm not educated.

And that was a moment where my heart stood still because I've never - I feel like I've never judged him in my life. So our relationship was very much one of, you know, try maybe to get back to a point where we saw things the same way.

HANSEN: Back when you were 11?

Ms. TRUSSONI: Back when I was a kid. And he had, you know, he was, sort of, my hero.

HANSEN: Yeah. What did your father think about the book?

Ms. TRUSSONI: When my father read the book, he was extremely sick. And he actually read it in the last month of his life before he died of cancer. And, you know, I was very divided about whether I should give it to him because it's, you know, the book is very honest. It has his good and his bad qualities - all there. And I didn't want to upset him too much when he was that sick. But he really wanted to read it so I gave it to him, and he read it. And, you know, he didn't really say very much about it to me other than that he was proud of me for having finished it.

And then when he was in his bed and people would come and visit, he had propped the book up next to his bed on a table. And he couldn't talk, you know, he didn't have the strength to use his mechanical larynx that he had. And so he couldn't talk, but he would just, sort of, point to it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TRUSSONI: That's the book.

HANSEN: Your book is just bursting with stories. I mean, I think you have to print as small as possible to contain them on the page. How was the writing process for you? I mean, this must have been both emotional and then the fact that you are a trained writer.

Ms. TRUSSONI: Well, it was extremely difficult for me. I don't think I'll ever write a book that will be as emotional as this one was for me to write. You know, even though I had lived these events and I knew on an intellectual level what I would be writing - I had it all mapped out. Sitting at your computer is like going back and living it again and you feel everything that you felt then. I found myself having dreams where I was 11 and thinking in the same ways that I had when I was 11, and feeling about my father in the same way as I had when I was 11. So it was an extremely emotional experience to write the book, and it was a difficult portrait to paint.

After he died, he died the same weekend that the book was released. And, you know, all of the reviews were coming in at the same time as his obituary was printed. It was very ironic, sort of, confluence of events. But what happened for me was that suddenly, with his death, I wanted to remember only the good things about him. And I found myself suddenly doing interviews on a book tour; people asking me about the negative qualities and I just didn't want to think about them.

HANSEN: Danielle Trussoni's memoir about her life with her father is called "Falling Through the Earth," and it's published in paperback by Picador. She joined us from New York. Danielle, thanks a lot.

Ms. TRUSSONI: Thanks for having me.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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