At night, Sam shakes so violently in the bed that his girlfriend is thrown out. He screams in a language not his own, “Give it back, give it back, give it back, motherfucker, or I’ll eat your mother’s soul.” He isn’t willing to believe what he becomes in his sleep until his girlfriend tapes one of these screaming nights. He listens to another man’s voice coming from his vocal chords. He knows the stranger’s language only slightly, but he has a notion what this is about.
Back in 1968, he was a combat G.I. in Vietnam. After a firefight in which he lost an arm, he was flown out of Khe San. As he was carried onto the plane, one of his buddies pressed a souvenir into his remaining hand. It was the blood-spattered ID card of a Vietcong fighter, retrieved after he was gunned down at the perimeter of an American base; the name has been scratched off.-
For decades after the war, Sam holds onto this grim memento. through the nightmare years when he is thrown back, night after night, into the hot savagery of the war and is tormented by the searing pain of a phantom limb that – strangely – is not his missing arm but what feels like an extra leg. He takes the Vietcong ID card with him when he returns to Vietnam as a tourist in the mid-1990s, falls in love with a Vietnamese girl and decides to settle in Hanoi with her and work as an electrician. In Hanoi, his nightmares are no longer inside him; they are spilling over into the waking life of his bedmate.-
Her culture has prepared her to recognize this kind of problem. Her Texas boyfriend is bi benh ta, “made ill by a ghost.” There is a name for this type of ghost in Vietnam. It is called con ma or “angry ghost”. There are a lot of them. Five million Vietnamese died in the several phases of war in Indochina, and a further 300,000 are missing. Many of the war dead were never buried, let alone accorded the traditional funeral rites and food and honor at family altars. There are bodies that were literally obliterated by B-52 carpet bombing. The result is many restless, raging souls that envy the living and take out their frustrations in ways that cause illness, depression, crazy behavior and temporary possession.-