The Roar of Ordinary

Brothers, Sisters, War, and Fate

Non-Fiction - Memoir
395 Pages
Reviewed on 09/03/2022
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Foluso Falaye for Readers' Favorite

The Roar of Ordinary is a coming-of-age memoir that depicts the loss of a friend and brother to war and the efforts to remember him and experience what he did in his final days in Vietnam. Though J. C. Foster survived the period of the Vietnam War that claimed the lives of millions, he's left with loss and survivor's remorse. Still, his brother's 20 years on earth and the counsel he left behind never left J.C. as he went through life, failed and succeeded in marriage, overcame physical milestones, traveled to Vietnam, and contemplated different philosophical problems. J. C. Foster's research about the Vietnam war and other American wars raises questions about the justification of war and the loss of millions of lives based on the decisions of a few in power.

This is the most emotional I've been about a book this year. I felt J. C. Foster's pain and that of the soldiers and family members who lost their friends and family to war through the pages of the book. The Roar of Ordinary taught me a lot about the Vietnam War, made my heart sink for all the lost lives and the pain left behind, took me on a colorful journey through Vietnam, and, yet, found a way to make me laugh with its humor about youth and growing up in the 20th century. J. C. Foster engages readers with a detailed and compelling narration that covers loss, family, war, culture, religion, racism, ambition, marriage, and more. Readers who love history and moving life stories will love this heartwarming, educational, thought-provoking, and elaborate memoir.

Tom Gauthier

Roar of Ordinary is a memoir. A memoir has a plot – life – the memories and perspectives of J.C. Foster’s life over time. No life is in isolation so the intimate relationships, especially reflections of his brother, are the interwoven branches of Foster’s life. Salted with dialogue that paints color and dimension in his story, Foster has shared a piece of history that is at once his and every man's who lived during the time. Brilliantly crafted, Roar of Ordinary should be required reading in schools and colleges. With Roar of Ordinary, J.C. Foster has crafted his life story in language as erudite as the classics and as clear as a comic strip. That is a high compliment, illustrating poetry that is at once music and stark reality. Foster records the highs and lows of real human existence. In elegant prose, he probes the dark secrets of evolving family members, interactions, strengths, foibles, and tragedies. An amazing blend of family history with world historic events from the lead-up to World War II through Korea and Vietnam to the present. The events of life ricochet off each other, but always forward. The impacts are real if unseen.

The recording of the lingering death of a beloved brother from the grievous wounds of war in Vietnam, echoing back to the earlier family illnesses and deaths of young generations, is poignant, real, never maudlin. To quote: “Death was a common visitor to our father. It ignored him, but savagely selected the young around him, and unfortunately, he would wrestle with grief for life.” Foster reflects often on what might have been as he weaves his brother’s life and death with his own life before and after the loss. We follow his siblings and extended family in minute detail and depth, pulling them personally close, engendering an almost voyeuristic feeling for the reader, but compelling at every turn. The tiniest details of family interaction are presented freshly minted and sumptuous to consume. Deep feelings are masterfully blended with pertinent and impactful facts that pull together and blend the tale into a riveting reading experience. The “coming of age” chapters are as real as the sunrise. J. C. Foster deserves the highest accolades for this work that should be a must-read for sociology classes.

In full disclosure, as a psychologist, I find transference both useful and an impediment. But as a writer and reviewer, transference can be the essence of the experience. As the oldest of five, born in 1940, growing up in the 50s, raised a Catholic, with father and uncles at war, and having served in the Cold War/Vietnam era military, my identification with his opening chapters was instant and continued through the entire book. From the loss of kin to learning to shun the literal interpretation of religion, being encouraged rather to look at verse metaphorically, figuratively, and allegorically, I found myself reading my life. De facto, every man’s life. My thanks to J. C. Foster and Roar of Ordinary for the reliving of the journey.

Grant Leishman

The Roar of Ordinary: Brothers, Sisters, War, and Fate by J.C. Foster is a familial story that spans four generations of an American immigrant family, most of which, for better or worse, is anchored and mired in one war or another; from WWI right through to Korea and Vietnam. This family was shaped and molded by its losses to war, illness, and the tough life that was growing up in America. Ever since Jack’s father told him that his little brother, Steve, three years his junior, was his responsibility to keep safe and protect from everyone, Jack and Steve became inseparable. As the pair went through high school and Jack headed off to college, they had big plans together on how they would embrace the world and all it had to offer. For the pair of them, looming always was that unknown South East Asian war that both knew would impact their lives far more than they desired. Motivated by patriotism and love of country, Steve decided to head to Vietnam first by joining the Marines straight out of high school. For Jack and Steve, nothing would ever be the same again. As Jack looks back on life as a senior, he reflects on the many twists and turns and sheer happenstance that have shaped his life and generations of his family. He is forced to ask the ultimate question – why?

I read many books in a year, and few books are capable of bringing me to tears. The Roar of Ordinary: Brothers, Sisters, War, and Fate was just such a book. This true tale of familial love was filled with heartfelt emotion and a burning sense of injustice over events in which its players had no say. Author J.C. Foster has struck a raw nerve in the American psyche when he examines in detail the motivations and corruption that ultimately would condemn over 50,000 Americans to a shortened life as they would die in the lonely paddy fields of Vietnam so many miles from home and loved ones. The author’s filial relationship with his brother was indeed a beautiful thing to behold. His willingness to go that extra mile to somehow find closure on the senseless Vietnam violence was, in itself, inspiring. I particularly enjoyed the author’s final caustic comments on the distressing direction the country has taken in the new millennium and especially in the four years of Trumpism. As an outsider, one can only hope that the sentiments and beliefs of these ordinary people are what ultimately triumphs over the oligarchs and autocrats of the twenty-first century and that American exceptionalism built on the power of immigrant families, like the author's, is not consigned to the wastebaskets of history. This book is an incredibly personal and powerful story that I can highly recommend.