Strike Patterns

Strike Patterns

Notes from Postwar Laos

Leah Zani2022

A strike pattern is a signature of violence carved into the land—bomb craters or fragments of explosives left behind, forgotten. In Strike Patterns, poet and anthropologist Leah Zani journeys to a Lao river community where people live alongside such relics of a secret war. With sensitive and arresting prose, Zani reveals the layered realities that settle atop one another in Laos—from its French colonial history to today's authoritarian state—all blown open by the war. This excavation of postwar life's balance between the mundane, the terrifying, and the extraordinary propels Zani to confront her own explosive past. From 1964 to 1973, the United States carried out a covert air war against Laos. Frequently overshadowed by the war with Vietnam, the Secret War was the longest and most intense air war in history. As Zani uncovers this hidden legacy, she finds herself immersed in the lives of her hosts: Chantha, a daughter of war refugees who grapples with her place in a future Laos of imagined prosperity; Channarong, a bomb technician whose Thai origins allow him to stand apart from the battlefields he clears; and Bounmi, a young man who has inherited his bomb expertise from his father but now struggles to imagine a similar future for his unborn son. Wandering through their lives are the restless ghosts of kin and strangers. Today, much of Laos remains contaminated with dangerous leftover explosives. Despite its obscurity, the Secret War has become a shadow model for modern counterinsurgency. Investigating these shadows of war, Zani spends time with silk weavers and rice farmers, bomb clearance crews and black market war scrap traders, ritual healers and survivors of explosions. Combining her fieldnotes with poetry, fiction, and memoir she reflects on the power of building new lives in the ruins.
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