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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, semi-autobiographical, Don’t Break My Rice Bowl by Robert H. Dodd highlights the personal and tragic struggles of an international agricultural expert sent to Saigon during the Vietnam war.

Don’t Break My Rice Bowl

Written by Robert H. Dodd in Maine, USA in the 1980s, Don’t Break My Rice Bowl was aside not quite finished before Dodd’s untimely death in ‘87. In 2020, during lockdown, his daughter Patricia, who lives in England discovered the only copy and over the next two years, with the assistance of a transatlantic writing and editing team, Dodd’s story was completed and published.

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Readers are immersed in the endeavours and difficulties of unassuming brave characters as they try to support Vietnam’s rice farming community, against a backdrop of political, cultural and personal challenges, and soon the reader will realise that plenty of what happens to the story’s protagonist Eddie really happened to Dodd during his life.

Feeling life is slipping him by, American agriculturalist Eddie heads to Vietnam to try and make a difference in the lives of the people as part of President Johnson’s ‘Hearts and Minds’ campaign. There is just one big problem – there’s a war going on. When Eddie joins a small group of civilian advisors chosen to work with local farmers to help make Vietnam self-sufficient again, he is drawn to adventure, challenges, and opportunities to make a difference. However, he is leaving some problems behind.

Eddie’s story follows the ups and downs of cultural and tropical agriculture training in Washington DC and the Philippines, and then his assignment in the Gia Dinh province just outside Saigon. The stakes increase as the war intensifies and Eddie’s connections in the country deepen, providing the backdrop for the cultural, political and personal struggles that unfold.

The novel is a reminder of the repeating patterns of war and the impact on the local people and community life, as seen in Afghanistan and, more recently, in Ukraine and Gaza. From the opening letter written by President Lyndon Johnson to the rollercoaster of emotions explored in the cover-to-cover journey, this book is certain to stir readers’ hearts and minds.

With its wraparound cover and 25 hand painted illustrations, created by Robert’s animation- and illustration-trained granddaughter, Justine, Don’t Break My Rice Bowl is a beautiful book to experience. This semi-autobiographical novel shines a light on a relatively unknown part of Vietnam War history as elements of Asian history and culture, including the introduction of ‘miracle rice’, are woven into the challenges of being a civilian trying to work – and live – in a war zone.

The poignant foreword by his daughter, the afterword by his second wife, the appendix, and 25 hand painted illustrations by his granddaughter provide added layers to the story. The fragility of life was the late author’s parting lesson; however, these words left behind were his ultimate gift.

Robert Dodd (1936–1987) – Primary Author

Robert’s early years were spent as a Geordie in South Shields, England, living in poverty on a working class street. World War II broke out when he was three – making him witness to the forceful German bombing campaign overhead. At nine he emigrated to America with his mother. After high school, Robert signed up for three years in the US Navy, closely followed by Cornell University to join the undergraduate ‘Aggies’ studying Biological & Agricultural Science.

After graduation he began his career as a County Agricultural Agent in Upstate New York. From 1966 to 1987, he worked as an International Agricultural Advisor and Consultant. He received the USAID’s Meritorious Honour Award for outstanding contributions to the Accelerated Rice Production Programme and the USA Medal of Civilian Service in Vietnam.

Patricia Rykiel – Co-author, West Sussex, UK, Robert’s daughter

Patricia attended FDU’s Florham campus (New Jersey) in the late 80s to early 90s, graduating summa cum laude. Her bachelor’s degree major was Political Science. This was followed by a master’s degree in Broadcast Journalism at UMD (Maryland). She worked as a computer trainer (Washington, DC) in the 1990s, and has been running her own technology consulting business the last 20 years. She was the UK voice of Avast the antivirus for a time – meaning, she knows how to say ‘threat has been detected’ with gusto! Patricia was also the creator (and voice) of a technology segment for a syndicated American radio show.

She is wife to David and mum to Cameron and Justine. Patricia lived in the US for a year in 1984, and from 1987 to 2000; she moved back to the UK with her family in 2000.

Beth Jackson – Co-author, Fountain Hills, AZ, USA, Robert’s second wife

Beth has a bachelor’s degree from Miami U (Ohio) in International Studies, and master’s degrees in Technical Writing (BGSU, Ohio); Special Education (UMaine); and Library & Information Science (USC, South Carolina). She has worked in research and editorial roles, but she most loved her 27 years as an educator in Blue Hill, Maine where she established the K-8 school library and worked with teachers and students to bring learning and an awareness of the larger world alive. She also played tenor in a community steel drum band for 25 years.

Don't Break My Rice Bowl by Robert H. Dodd Illustration on The Table Read Magazine
Don’t Break My Rice Bowl by Robert H. Dodd Illustration

She and her second husband Ross now live in Arizona where they miss sea kayaking and the Maine woods, but where they enjoy exploring the wonders of the desert and playing banjo and guitar together.

Justine Rykiel – Illustrator, West Sussex, UK, Robert’s granddaughter

Justine graduated with a First-Class Honours from the UK’s Kingston School of Arts, BA degree in Illustration Animation in 2021. From illustration to animation to motion design, she brings story and character to life. If she were to appear on the UK quiz show Mastermind, her specialist subject would have to be SpongeBob SquarePants! Awards: 2015, RBA Scholar; 2021, Creative Conscience Award; 2022, nominated for the Ifan Holweger Student Animation award and animation collaborator in the winning Student Documentary award entry, ‘Man Up’, at the Learning on Screen Awards.

Find more now:

Kindle: https://amzn.to/3rY7wCJ

Paperback: https://amzn.to/3Sko7LP

Hardcover: https://amzn.to/3Sfk6Im

Justine Rykiel: www.justinerykiel.co.uk

Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) book review https://vvabooks.wordpress.com

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