Louella Bryant’s latest book
By KATHRYN FLAGG
LINCOLN — Lincoln author
Louella Bryant’s latest book fell into her lap — literally.
Or rather, it was placed there — in the form of an old box
brimming with photographs, letters and a well-worn journal,
delivered to Bryant by her husband.
“It was the book,” Bryant said. “It was the whole book in
“While in Darkness There is Light,” which hits bookstore
shelves this week, tells the fascinating story of a group of
young, privileged American men who left the United States in the
early 1970s. Disillusioned with American politics and blessed
with the resources to travel the world, they set off for
Australia and an agricultural commune in Far North Queensland.
One of these young men is Charlie Dean, the younger brother
of Democratic National Committee Chairman and former Vermont
Gov. Howard Dean. Charlie would later disappear in the jungles
of Laos and die at the hands of the communist Pathet Lao.
(Charlie’s name cropped up in mainstream media during
Howard Dean’s 2004 bid for the Democratic presidential
nomination, when Howard Dean spoke of wearing Charlie’s belt
Another of these young men, as luck would have it, was Harry
Reynolds, who would later become Bryant’s husband.
Bryant stumbled upon the concept for the book in 2004,
shortly after Howard Dean claimed his brother’s remains, which
had been unearthed in Laos and repatriated at a ceremony in
Hawaii. The trip made the news, and inevitably cropped up in
conversation one night while Bryant and Reynolds sat on the
porch of their quiet home in Lincoln.
Reynolds had attended the same elite preparatory school where
Howard and Charlie had been students, just one year behind
Charlie and a handful behind Howard. After Richard Nixon thumped
George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election, Reynolds and
Charlie Dean traveled together to the Rosebud Farm commune in
Australia, which a few old prep school friends had founded after
dropping out of college in the wake of the Kent State shootings.
Reynolds told his wife about the months they spent working on
the commune, and recalled that when the rainy season set in,
Charlie took off for southeast Asia. He asked Reynolds to come
along, but Reynolds returned to the United States instead.
At this point in the conversation, Bryant recalls, her
husband “very quietly disappeared” — either to the cellar or the
attic — and returned carrying the box that, over the next four
years, his wife would fashion into a book.
Bryant was hooked. Here was a story she wanted to tell. As a
mother and stepmother to two grown sons, Bryant was fascinated
and horrified at the panic the Dean family must have felt after
Charlie’s disappearance. She was curious about the blue-blood
culture that her husband and Charlie and Howard Dean had grown
up in, and eager to know more about her husband as a young man.
More importantly, Bryant said, she realized that underlying
questions in the narrative were ones of universal importance.
What drives young men into danger? Bryant wondered. How does a
young person uncover what it is in life he or she is meant to
What emerged from these questions is a riveting story, told
in Bryant’s unadorned but forceful prose. A simple, lovely
forward from Howard Dean sets the stage for the narrative, which
dives immediately into the jungles of Laos before tripping
backwards to scenes from a boarding school boyhood, Harvard Yard
and the remote, tropical landscape of Far North Queensland.
Though classified as nonfiction, the book does tiptoe along
the tightrope between fact and fancy in places — a point where
Bryant’s work may draw criticism. She researched Charlie’s time
in Laos extensively, sifting through old letters sent home to
friends and family, but she chose to imagine the unknowable
circumstances of his capture and his eventual execution.
“It’s fictionalized, but it’s also based on the research I’ve
done about who Charlie was as a person,” Bryant said.
She relied heavily on a memoir written by Dieter Dengler —
the only American to escape a Laotian prison camp — to fill in
the gaps, but said she had no choice but to tone down the
experiences Dengler relates in his “harrowing” memoir.
“I’ve tried to keep the experience in the prison camp
sketchy, because I didn’t want to imagine that (Charlie had)
been dragged through hell there,” Bryant said. “I wanted to
imagine what I think was probably true — that he relied a lot on
his very strong sense of spirit.”
And, she said, she had to consider the feelings of the very
people she was writing about — not least of whom were the
remaining Dean brothers, who hadn’t seen Charlie during the year
preceding his death.
“They never had a chance to say goodbye to Charlie,” Bryant
said. “There was this sort of hole in their hearts. The book,
for them, brings Charlie back to life. It explains what happens
to him the last year before he disappeared.”
Though written in part for the Dean family, Bryant said, the
author is excited to send the book out into the world — in large
part because she hopes the story about Rosebud Farm and
Charlie’s death will have some resonance with readers today. She
set out to “interpret a life,” she said, and hopes her readers
“find something of themselves in it.”
In this sense, Bryant succeeds admirably. “While in Darkness”
not only relates the urgency of early adulthood, but also
captures the idealism, turbulence and uncertainty of the 1970s.
For readers who lived through the era, it’s an echo of a time
invigorating and heartbreaking. More importantly, the book
manages a quiet sense of modern relevance.
Now, with the book finally finished and in print, Bryant is
gearing up for a slew of September appearances and an October
book tour that will take her — and a trunk-full of boxed books —
down the eastern seaboard.
It’s a jarring role for a writer accustomed to the peace and
quiet of her Lincoln home — where, she said, it’s “just me and
the words and the story and this incredible solitude.” And
taking off her writing hat to put on her saleswoman cap would be
easier, she thinks, if she weren’t selling her “child” — the
dear thing she’s worked on for four years now.
It’s unclear whether the questions that drove Bryant’s
manuscript — about a young man’s impulse for danger, about the
struggle to find one’s purpose — are questions with answers to
Bryant, though her book is published and packaged, appears to
still be cradling those questions. She can’t help but still ask
about what drove Charlie Dean into peril. He sent a letter home
telling of gunshots in the distance, across the Mekong River —
and yet, she said, “he went right into it.”
“He must have known on some level that he was walking into
some danger,” Bryant said. “I don’t think he was naïve.”
He was motivated, she imagines, by empathy for the men sent
to fight in the Vietnam War, and a growing love for Laos that he
wrote of in letters home.
“I really, truly believe in my heart that he believed he
could make a difference,” Bryant said.
But some motivations no amount of research, and storytelling,
can reveal. Though Bryant has moved on to other projects since
finishing the manuscript, Charlie Dean still lingers for the
author in the inevitable aftermath of inhabiting his story for
so many years.
“Every time I read this draft I went into a depression for
days, and wept,” Bryant said. “Even talking about it now, four
years after starting this project, it just grips my heart. He’s
alive, every time I read this story — he’s alive.”
And on that count, Bryant can’t take any liberties with fact.
“When I get to the end, it always has the same ending,” she
continued. “And I can’t change that.”
“While in Darkness There is Light” is published by Black
Lawrence Press. Bryant is slated for several public appearances
next month, starting with a reading at the Lincoln Library on
Sept. 5. She’ll also appear at the Burlington Book Festival at
10 a.m. on Sept. 13, and read at Middlebury’s Ilsley Library on
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
'With love, Charlie'
Book reveals life and death of Howard Dean’s
Herald-Times Argus, Sunday, September 7, 2008
By KEVIN O’CONNOR
Lincoln writer Louella Bryant
Photo: Photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
Meet the author
Lincoln writer Louella Bryant's book “While
in Darkness There is Light: Idealism and
Tragedy on an Australian Commune” has just
been released in a $16 paperback by New York
publisher Black Lawrence Press. It can be
bought or ordered at most bookstores and at
the following free readings:
— Sept. 13, 10 a.m., Burlington Book
Festival, Lake & College Performing Arts
— Sept. 20, 2 p.m., Book King in Rutland,
— Sept. 24, 7 p.m., Ilsley Public Library in
— Sept. 28, 3 p.m., Phoenix Books in Essex,
Lincoln writer Louella Bryant remembers when Howard Dean,
running for president in 2004, smiled with seeming
invincibility on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
That's when her husband told her the rest of the story.
Harry Reynolds is more a thinker than a talker. But seeing
Dean pictured so glossily, he surprised his wife by
recalling how he went to prep school in the 1960s with the
former Vermont governor's brother Charlie.
Harry told her how the two of them, trying to escape the
Vietnam War and the expectations of their country-club
families, fled to a ramshackle outpost called Rosebud Farm
and its garden of sex, drugs and rock and roll. After four
months at the commune, Charlie asked Harry if he wanted to
go on a tour of Southeast Asia. Harry was homesick and
returned to the states. Charlie boarded a boat to parts
A year later, Harry was working at his family's New England
orchard when he learned that Laotian soldiers armed at a
riverbank checkpoint had captured and killed his 24-year-old
Bryant listened as her husband recalled the horror from
three decades ago, then watched as he retreated to the attic
and returned with a red-leather journal and a shoebox filled
with letters. Perusing the pages, she saw a story of
adventure, history and heartbreak.
“Good lord,” Bryant recalls telling her husband, “this needs
to be a book.”
Four years later, she has finished writing it. “While in
Darkness There is Light: Idealism and Tragedy on an
Australian Commune” is the coming-of-age story of a
brotherhood of boarding-school friends and what they learned
when they graduated into the conflict and counterculture of
the Vietnam era.
The 234-page paperback — based on personal writings, CIA
records and interviews with family and friends — also sheds
new light on how Charlie Dean lived, disappeared and died
and how that has shaped his older brother, now chairman of
the Democratic National Committee.
'A solid conservative'
Bryant has published numerous short stories, poems and
essays, as well as two novels for young adults. But growing
up, she wouldn't have guessed she'd one day write a book
centered on prep school and privilege. The 61-year-old
Virginia native tells how her maternal grandfather
supplemented his paper-mill paycheck by delivering illegal
moonshine, while her paternal grandfather ran a feed store
to support his wife and 12 children.
Then, 20 years ago, the author married her husband Harry —
son of the alumni director at the exclusive all-boys St.
Back in 1958, the academy landed on the “Select 16: The Most
Socially Prestigious American Boarding Schools” list.
Harry's schoolmates came from equally high places. Kim
Haskell was the son of a congressman. Howard and Charlie
Dean were the oldest of four sons of “Big Howard,” a top
executive at the Wall Street stock brokerage Dean Witter
Howard was 18 months older than his brother, but he let
Charlie choose the top bunk in their shared childhood
bedroom, Bryant's book reports. It was one of the few times
anyone rose above Howard, who was a school star in football
and track, the wrestling team captain, president of the
library committee and, as Bryant quotes his own yearbook
description, “a solid conservative defending the powers of
the Student Council.”
Charlie ranked 49th out of a class of 53. But he did
something his older brother couldn't: win election to the
post of senior prefect. Charlie was a born politician — and
a budding maverick. His father, a staunch Republican, led
dinner-table debates. As Bryant tells it, the Dean brothers
still remember when Charlie gave his father indigestion by
announcing that Democrat Lyndon Johnson was a good
The schoolmates graduated to different colleges: Howard to
Yale, Harry to Harvard, Charlie to the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill (rejected by his Ivy League choices,
the younger Dean had contemplated the Peace Corps, only to
see his father pull some strings at Chapel Hill, Bryant
Soon Americans watched man walk on the moon. But Charlie and
his classmates set their eyes on something else: Vietnam.
Before Bryant graduated from the capital's George Washington
University in 1971, she juggled studies, peace protests and
a secretarial job to pay her bills. Her male classmates
faced the added burden of a military draft.
In 1969, President Nixon announced that 150,000 men age 18
and older would be picked by lottery based on their
birthdays. Charlie and friend Kim Haskell weren't selected.
But Bryant's future husband was called for a physical.
“Harry stripped down to his boxers and waited, nearly naked
and trembling at the prospect of going to war,” his wife
writes in her book. “Because of his hockey workouts, he'd
never been in better physical shape.”
Because he was in college, however, he received a student
Not that school felt much safer. Harry joined his Harvard
peers and boycotted final exams in May 1970 after National
Guardsmen patrolling a war protest at Ohio's Kent State
University killed four people and wounded nine others.
Charlie, for his part, joined peace rallies with classmates
including Elizabeth Anania (now wife of former North
Carolina U.S. Sen. John Edwards). After graduating from
college, he signed onto the 1972 presidential campaign of
Democratic nominee George McGovern.
Charlie was devastated when Nixon trounced McGovern that
November. Howard urged him to travel, hoping he might gain
some perspective. At the same time, his friend Kim suggested
he join him in Australia. And so in March 1973, Charlie
caught a ride to Seattle, boarded a freighter for Japan and
then sailed Down Under.
The Far North Queensland village of Kuranda — aborigine for
“meeting place of the spirits” — boasted little more than a
church, a store and two pubs. But that was enough for Kim
and Harvard classmate Rich Trapnell, who founded a commune
on 460 acres of what had been cleared almost a century
earlier for a coffee plantation. Stealing a line from the
classic film “Citizen Kane,” they called their project
Everything seemed to blossom in the Australian heat. When
Charlie arrived that spring, the clean-cut American saw
groves of bananas, coconut palms, coffee plants, grapefruit,
limes, mangos, oranges, pawpaws and pineapples ripe for the
picking. In between roamed cows and horses — and kangaroos.
When Harry followed that fall, he traded his private
American bedroom for a rustic bunkhouse without electricity
or running water. But the biggest surprise in the outback
was the change in his friend.
'A Neverland quality'
As Bryant writes: “In the five years since Harry had seen
Charlie, the St. George's School senior prefect had
undergone a radical transformation. His hair now fell nearly
to his shoulders, he had grown a bushy chestnut-colored
beard, and there was an unruly look about him, as if he were
celebrating his wild freedom.”
America roiled 35 years ago with news of the Watergate
scandal and a nationwide oil shortage. But Australia seemed
a place of peace. Commune dwellers, numbering no less than a
dozen at any time, planted fruit and vegetables, tended
chickens, cows and pigs and grew wheat and ground it into
“The Australian bush was leaving its mark on the Park Avenue
boy,” Bryant says in her book. “His hair tousled about his
head, and sprigs of weeds clung to his full beard. His skin
was leather. What covered him was only a pair of thin,
Commune residents explored most everything. They sampled the
homegrown marijuana and wild blue mushrooms that could spark
four-hour hallucinations and the desire to rip off their
clothes. They swam rivers teeming with snakes and
crocodiles. They watched a man die after diving off a
40-foot cliff into the local Devil's Pool — and then climbed
and catapulted themselves off the 70-foot drop of the nearby
“Rosebud Farm had a Neverland quality about it,” Bryant
writes. “The lost boys were loath to leave.”
But childhood conditioning and adult ambition were never far
“As the second oldest son, Charlie no doubt wanted to make
his family proud of him,” Bryant writes. “Howard had set the
course, and it was a hard one to follow. Already Charlie
felt he had disappointed his father by not following Howard
to Yale. His ideas were different from his father's, there
was no doubt about that. And yet he wanted to show Big
Howard that he could make something important happen,
something that would make his father see that he was
Charlie, curious about Buddhist teachings of finding
serenity within oneself, thought about traveling to temples
in Indonesia, Cambodia and perhaps even Vietnam. In 1974, he
asked Harry to go with him to Southeast Asia.
But Harry couldn't stop thinking about home. His
brother-in-law, owner of the biggest apple orchard in
Massachusetts, always needed help. And he dreamed of buying
his own farm in Vermont.
Harry booked a flight to Boston. Something led Charlie in a
'Get out of there'
Charlie, then 23, packed that May for Southeast Asia,
telling friends that, after two last stops in Nepal and
India, he hoped to reunite with his family back home by
Just before leaving Australia, he met Neil Sharman, a
reporter for the Northern Territory News who was two years
younger. One minute Charlie was telling the journalist about
the trip, the next they were taking it together. In the
spring and summer of 1974, the two sailed to Timor, then
Jakarta, Sumatra, Malaysia, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok
and Phnom Penh.
“Although Charlie had an inkling about the American
political and economic scene, there was not much news about
U.S. activities in Southeast Asia,” Bryant writes in her
book. “If he and Neil knew of the recent unrest, they chose
to ignore it and walk straight into the turmoil.”
Charlie ate rice with his fingers, slept in bamboo huts and
joined locals in trying to escape the squalor with a cloud
“He had thought he might be able to lend a hand to the
people of war-torn areas,” Bryant discovered in her
research, “but he hadn't expected to be overwhelmed by their
desperate circumstances and the crushing futility they
Charlie wrote Harry that he'd keep his plans to visit Laos
and then head home.
“Take care and stay warm in your heart,” he ended his
letter. “With love, Charlie.”
By then, Howard Dean had neither seen nor spoken to his
brother for more than a year.
“The last letter I got from him was in August,” Dean writes
in a foreword to Bryant's book. “He was in Laos then and
talked about how beguiling the Lao were, how gentle they
were. He also wrote about the sounds of artillery shells
exploding in the night. I remember wanting to call him
(which of course was impossible) and then wanting to write
him, telling him he should get out of there now.”
Family and friends know only a few details about what
happened next. On Sept. 14, 1974, Charlie and Neil boarded a
ferry boat on the Mekong River, the U.S. State Department
would learn. A federal official who phoned Howard that fall
said the two young men were captured by Communist Pathet Lao
soldiers at a riverbank checkpoint and imprisoned in a
After a flurry of calls and correspondence, Charlie's father
flew to Laos that December, and his mother went herself in
February. Both returned home empty-handed.
“The Pathet Lao representatives would not acknowledge
knowing anything,” Howard Dean writes in the book's
foreword. “Worse, they would not look my mother in the
In May 1975, the Dean family received a letter from the
American liaison Asia Society reporting Charlie and his
friend had been executed by rifle fire, mostly likely around
the time his father was in Laos.
Harry was working at his brother-in-law's orchard when he
received the news.
“Harry put on some music,” his wife says in her book. “Then
'Closed the loop'
Bryant would learn the whole story during the 2004
presidential campaign. For nearly 30 years, the Dean family
had sought more information from the federal government, and
Howard had traveled to Laos in 2002. Then, two months before
the Iowa caucuses, Laotians scouring a rice paddy unearthed
Dean's 2003 trip to Hawaii to retrieve the remains became
“Dr. Dean, who flew 11 hours to get here after a
presidential debate in Des Moines, and left about noon on
Wednesday to fly to New York for Thanksgiving, praised the
men and women who did the digging,” the New York Times
reported. “He stood with one hand in his pocket, and the
jacket of his suit fell open to show the black leather belt
he wears nearly every day. It was Charlie's.”
Dean, a vocal critic of the Iraq war, has said little
publicly about his brother's disappearance and death, partly
in deference to his father, who died in 2001, and mother,
who's still alive. That's what makes his cooperation with
Bryant and his contribution to the book so significant.
“Both boys' skeletons were largely intact — Charlie's shoes,
socks and a pretty decayed but recognizable plaid shirt were
with him,” he writes in his foreword. “Thanks to a lot of
hard work by a lot of good people, we had closed the loop.”
But for Bryant, it was only the beginning. After hearing her
husband reminisce, she began reading, researching and
planning her own trip to Rosebud Farm. Most of Charlie's
family and friends trusted her enough to share their
diaries, letters and, in Howard Dean's case, CIA records. A
man who retraced Charlie's route from capture to prison camp
shared his account with Bryant in a 14-page letter.
Bryant knows some scholars and journalists will frown on her
footnote-free “hypothesis” of Charlie's last days in Laos.
But even those few pages, she says, are based on his past
conversations and correspondence.
“It's like putting together a quilt with really small
pieces,” she says. “I would ask Howard and Harry, 'Does this
sound like Charlie?'”
Bryant's $16 paperback has just been released by the small
New York publisher Black Lawrence Press, and she's about to
promote it at stores, schools and events along the East
Coast. Some may pigeonhole the book as just another title
about Vietnam, Nixon and the counterculture. The author sees
it more as one man's story of wrestling with the questions
of war, politics and society that continue to divide the
“I had to do this,” she says. “Somebody had to tell this
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The choices we make
Louella Bryant was a graduate student at George Washington University in
Washington, D.C., in 1973-1974, working on her education degree. Harry
Reynolds, at the time, was living on a commune, Rosebud Farm, in North
Bryant had gone to George Washington as an undergraduate, too, studying
Elizabethan literature and protesting the war in the nation’s capital.
Reynolds was a graduate of Harvard, where he played hockey, majored in
history and, through his student status, received a draft deferment when
young men were being sent to fight in Vietnam.
At Rosebud, Reynolds lived with new acquaintances and old friends from his
New England prep school. These young men — barely out of their boyhoods —
had already made their way to the Australian outback. One close friend was
his buddy Charlie Dean, the brother of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who
is now chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Charlie Dean lived and worked and played at Rosebud in the months
before he traveled to Southeast Asia, a trip that would end in his capture
and execution by the Pathet Lao, in Laos, in late 1974. Reynolds, who is now
57, wound up settling in Vermont, where he lives in Lincoln and teaches at
Mount Mansfield Union High School.
Bryant, 61, is a former English teacher at MMU, a writer, and the wife of
Reynolds. She is the author of a new book, her first nonfiction work, “While
in Darkness There is Light: Idealism and Tragedy on an Australian Commune.”
The book focuses on the lives of Reynolds and Charlie Dean as young men:
each considering his next move, his place in the world, while living a kind
of exotic, fun-filled and sometimes wild adventure in a faraway land.
“It was such a time of searching for yourself,” Bryant said. “Do you
remember being 22, 23, 24? To have a dream, to have a passion, and to not
know how to satisfy that passion is a very difficult thing at that age.
Charlie was looking for the right thing to do.”
Bryant’s book, with a moving foreword by Howard Dean, chronicles a time of
social and political upheaval, when American youth questioned the more
conventional lives of their parents and dared to dream big, bold dreams —
sometimes acting upon them. The book is an exploration of the choices young
men make and why, on occasion, they put themselves in the face of danger.
Charlie Dean, who traveled to a dangerous part of the world at a risky time,
was 24 when he was shot to death. If he dreamed of a different kind of
world, he had no chance to help build it.
Bryant believes two primary factors compelled Charlie to travel to war-torn
regions of Cambodia and Laos: A friend’s story about the beauty of the land
and the inexpensive travel. A need to see firsthand the loss and devastation
wrought by a war he opposed.
“He saw the refugees,” Bryant said. “He knew the civil war was still going
on. He saw the boxes of American ammo and he heard the guns. He knew there
was violence and yet he still went ahead. Was it ignorance or was it
Charlie Dean is portrayed as a caring, social and spiritual person — a
determined young man. He was elected to lead the student council his senior
year at St. George’s School. He was politically active at the University of
North Carolina. He worked with great determination to elect George McGovern,
an opponent of the Vietnam War, to the presidency in his 1972 campaign
against Richard Nixon.
Charlie Dean was traveling by boat down the Mekong River with an Australian
friend when he was captured by armed guards and led to a prison camp. Howard
Dean, that autumn of 1974, was living in his parent’s apartment in New York
City. He answered the phone when the State Department called to report there
was reason to believe Charlie Dean was a prisoner of the Pathet Lao, a
Laotian communist group.
“Charlie was such a spiritual person,” Bryant said. “I don’t imagine that he
feared death. He studied Buddhism. Even though he had a lot of personal
angst about what to do with his life on earth, I think he had a certain
peace about the afterlife.”
Howard Dean was in the Midwest this week with the DNC’s Register for Change
bus tour and could not be reached to comment for this article.
He was governor of Vermont when he visited the place in Laos where his
brother’s body, and that of Charlie’s friend, were thought to be left in
death: a bomb crater in a rice paddy. Howard Dean describes it in his
“I stood at the edge of a small pond at the paddy and watched the water
trickle through the terraces,” he wrote. “It was incredibly peaceful, and
although I thought it was pretty likely that the skeletons had been graded
to bits long ago and scattered around the site, I knew two things: Charlie
had loved Laos and the Laotian people, and if his remains could not be
recovered, they had found a good eternal resting place. And I knew that I
wanted to come back with my mother and my brothers.”
Dean was running for president of the United States when he learned his
brother’s remains had been recovered. He flew to Hawaii to see them, as
Charlie’s remains were coming home.
It was Dean’s presidential run that inspired Bryant, author of two
historical novels for young readers, to think about writing her nonfiction
book. With Howard Dean in the news, her husband’s memories of boarding
school and Rosebud came forth.“Harry started talking about Charlie and the
more he talked about him, the more I thought there might be something
there,” Bryant said.
She contacted Howard Dean about her idea and he responded with support and
generosity, Bryant said. She remembers meeting him at the Democracy for
America offices. Dean showed up in a paint-splattered T-shirt from painting
his garage and said: “Tell me what you want to know,” Bryant recalled.
Howard Dean’s support was crucial to her decision to carry on with the
project, Bryant said. “I needed his enthusiasm,” she said. “If he had been
reticent, I think I would’ve ditched the project.”
She even called upon the help of Dean’s brother, Bryant said.
“There’s a certain energy behind this book that has kept me at it in the
face of lots of rejections,” Bryant said. At those times, she found herself
talking to her subject: “Charlie,” she’d say, “I’m writing it the best I can
and you have to give me some help.”
The book relies on interviews, research, letters and Reynolds’s Rosebud
journal to recreate the lives of the Australian commune members: Their
farming and fishing, their parties, their pig roasts. Their construction
projects, reckless adventures and thoughts of home and future.
“I learned so much about my own husband,” Bryant said. “I learned so much
about an alternative point of view on the Vietnam War. I learned about
expatriates, and what that was like.”
As a writer, Bryant thought hard about the difference between writing
fiction and nonfiction — and the gray area where these genres meet and might
conflict. Her subjects read the sections relevant to their stories; Bryant
said she paid attention to their suggestions.
“When you write nonfiction, I think you have a certain responsibility to the
people you’re writing about,” she said.
In particular, writing about Charlie Dean’s capture and imprisonment, Bryant
pieced together the story with information from Howard Dean and other kinds
of research. To help recreate the events in Laos, Bryant said she “decided
to integrate imagined elements into the story.”
In her author’s note, Bryant wrote:
“Long reminiscences reaching back over thirty years to the untamed mountains
and rivers of North Queensland have helped me imagine the experiences of
these young men.”
“While in Darkness There is Light” brings to life Charlie Dean, searching,
soulful and kind-hearted.
“And then it always ends the same way,” Bryant said. “And that’s the sad
reality we all have to deal with. In Charlie’s case, what might have been
could have made a difference in all our lives.”
Contact Sally Pollak at
email@example.com or 660-1859.
Letter from Charlie
A letter written by Charlie Dean to his boarding school and Rosebud friend,
Kim Haskell. He wrote the letter from Bangkok in August 1974, before heading
There once was a young man with two perfectly good heads. He was sort of
proud — after all, two heads are better than one — and he was sort of bummed
out because he had the hardest time making decisions. He had a successful
youth and did many things that most people with just one head only dream of.
He went on a trip, and one head sort of lost interest, and the other head,
previously described as uninspired, or at least under-developed, started to
bloom. And it told the heart (there was only one) to feel its best ever
because here were friends and love that the other head had never imagined.
But just as the two head reached equilibrium, the education ended. The
examination had begun and continues to this day. The young man continues to
roam and, as in all good examinations, he is learning while he is being
tested. And both heads are doing marvelously well. Too well, in fact.
Decisions don’t come easily except a decision by the heart not to choose.
For the heart loves both heads equally and has been touched in return by
both. There is a happy ending, but it is not written. For the heart is
comforted by the words of a brother, ‘It will happen, that’s cool, just let
it happen.’ And so it will, my brothers, because above all, peace and love
and wisdom and harmony will be served.
Love to you all, Charlie
Reprinted by permission of Louella Bryant, author of “While in Darkness
There is Light,” in which this letter appears.