Never Fade Away
By William Hart
Published by Fifthian Press 
January 2002; ISBN: 1564743861; 208 pages

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Never Fade Away by William Hart9/3/85

Can you smell in a dream? Or did I just dream it last night?

I was eighteen again, stepping from a DC-8 into Vietnam for the first time, slugged in the face by the stench of that steaming green land. It burned in my nose and lungs like nothing I'd ever known, a composite of rotting garbage, smoke from fires, human sweat--all cooking at 115 degrees. Boy did it scare me. I was thinking, if I can't even take the smell of the place...

Woke in the wee hours to an odor equally unforgettable: the fetor of deceased human flesh curing in equatorial sun. For a long time it clogged my nostrils, even though I was awake. Ended up sleeping on the living room couch, where it seemed less. This morning it was gone.

I found it easier to enter Vietnam than ever to leave. Part of me can never leave, I guess.

Sooooo, what else?...Oh yeah. Today was the first day of fall semester. Rah rah, sis boom bah.

Dutifully administered the John Goddard Electroshock Lecture to my ENGL 002 sections. Fire and brimstone did rain down till every trembling eyeball glowed in terror. Well, they've got to know we're not convened to play pattycake. Get used to it, dudes: the zeros in English 002 signify you're in college by a vagrant hair. Shine fast or we snip you.

Christ have I got a lot of Asians in those classes. Sixty percent, I bet. Workload will be a bitch, and for my pains, at semester's end, I'll preside over yet another slaughter of the innocents. Wonder how many I can rescue this time.

Crossed my mind the Department could be stacking my rosters. Perfect way to guarantee an instructor they want to get rid of has low pass rates.

Yet I prefer another scenario, more flattering. Some of the Asians, I know, come looking for my sections. And they've got a pretty good grapevine going. Am I being screwed by my own competence?


Tuesday, September 3

Today is first class meeting for English 002. When teacher walk in, I am disappoint. A man teacher. I think he is 40 years old, maybe. His name is Mr. Goddard.

He make strong speech, scare us to death. He tell about final exam in December how tough it will be, how we will fail for sure if we dont be serious. Usually more than 50% fail 002, he say. Next he give worser news, if you fail any English class two time, you flunk out school, that's it buddy!

Everybody so quiet to hear those evil facts. Even the guys look scare (which we know they hate). In our little class, 15 students sit, 15 stand behind to see if they can add, all are misery. Only sound is clock running, its little finger goes around, I feel misery too.

Then Mr. Goddard talk to us more positive. Inch by inch his words rise us up from misery condition. Even if final is tough, he say, some students always pass. And if our class work hard, more can do it. Also, he promise to help us every way. He is English as Second Language teacher, his job is help student like us, etc, etc, etc.

Well, he seem sincere and I want to believe. But I remember my last semester English teacher. On first day she promise we will learn so much, then she give us only lazy teaching and many harsh judgements. In that class, all fail but three.

I must watch this new teacher. Are his words and actions same, or is he another fake one? If he is fake, I must decide some other plan to pass.

Tonight, I burn money and pray to my family. I promise my parents, my grandparents, I will pass English 002 this time. As spirits they watch me everything I do, how can I lie to them or break my swear?

In this journal I make second promise. If I fail English 002 again, flunk out school, disgrace my elder generations, I will end my shameful existence.

Signed Sincerely,

Tien Le

No way to fail English now. Because I always keep promise, and I dont wanna die.

Copyright 2002 William Hart
Reprinted with permission. (back to top)


At a state university in mid-1980's Los Angeles, freshman English routinely turns ethnic minority and immigrant students into ex-students--until an untenured instructor bucks the system.


"Hart puts an unusual spin on the relationship between student and teacher in this promising debut novel, which begins when a Vietnamese student names Tina Le signs up for an ESL language course taught by a disgruntled, deeply damaged Vietnam vet John Goddard at a California state college.… Hart finds a nice prose rhythm as he shifts back and forth between Goddard and his student, and he avoids the obvious clichés as he explores the nuances of their relationship and the inherent inequities of the academic system that brings them together.… This is a solidly impressive debut by a writer worth watching.”
—Publishers Weekly

"William Hart has written a powerful, arresting first novel that explores the teacher/student relationship in a new and complex way. This is a book about heroism, about the scars of Vietnam, and, ultimately, about love.”
—T. Coraghessan Boyle

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William Hart earned a doctorate in English at USC and has taught basic writing/ESL at Los Angeles universities. His stories and poems appear widely in newspapers, magazines, and anthologies. He is the author of several poetry collections, including Paris, which won a Merit Book Award from the Haiku Society of America. Hart also writes scripts, most often for his wife, PBS documentary filmmaker Jayasri Majumdar. Never Fade Away is his first novel.

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