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Vietnam, Race Relations Books Win 'Ambassador Award' - 2004-10-13


Authors of books about race relations and the Vietnam war have won the English Speaking Union's annual award for books that are symbolic of American life. Copies of the winning books will be donated to member organizations in dozens of countries.

Pulitzer-Prize winner David Maraniss won for his latest nonfiction book, They Marched Into Sunlight. The book mixes the narratives of two different stories from October 1967, one about a U.S. Army battalion that engaged in a battle with North Vietnamese fighters, the other about an anti-war protest at the University of Wisconsin.

Poetry editor Joe Conarroe says the stories are as relevant as ever, especially given the heated political debate in the United States over the war in Iraq.

"It is impossible to read this heartbreaking book without being aware of the parallels, and I say this regardless of one's politics, the parallels between what happened in October 35 years ago and what is happening now in a country bisected by a tragic war," he says.

Another timeless topic, the issue of race relations, is at the center of The Time of Our Singing, a novel about a German-Jewish scientist who falls in love with an African-American singer. Author Richard Powers says themes of acceptance and notions of home figure prominently in his story, which is set in the mid-20th century.

"Who gets to sing what America? What song does America get to sing? The bird and the fish can fall in love, but where will they build their nest? That refrain serves as the mixed marriage song for the peculiar and peculiarly American couple who gives birth to my story," he notes.

Each year, the English Speaking Union, a private educational charity founded in 1920, chooses a series of books for its Ambassador Awards. The winners bring to light what the Union calls important aspects of American culture.

President emeritus Doe Thornburg says the idea is to share the books with English-speakers abroad so that people can gain a better understanding of the United States.

"We call it books as envoys," she says. "We send book representing ourselves and our society to other parts of the world so people can understand and read what we are reading currently here, and it creates a bridge between societies in doing that."

Ms. Thornburg says international branches of the English Speaking Union in about 30 countries will each receive a set of winning books.

The group also recognized Brenda Wineapple for her biography of writer Nathaniel Hawthorne and author Robert Caro for his writings on power and the formation of American society.

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