My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It’s cliche to say, but there weren’t enough stars available to properly rate this book. It was definitely 5+, though.
I was 7 years old in ’68 with an older brother who was 18. The Vietnam Era is something that looms large in my memories of childhood. I can still remember the fear I had that my brother would have to go to war. I still remember the news every evening and the discussions at the dinner table afterwards. I was young. I wasn’t stupid. As the war dragged on, I even began to worry at my own fate regarding my possible participation in that war. Fortunately, for both myself and my brother (high lottery number), we got lucky. My parents’ fears never came to fruition.
For someone — even someone like myself with an avid interest in Military History — who has never experienced a battlefield or a jungle ambush or a shelling/bombing, there is just no possible way for them to fathom such an experience. You cannot watch movies or read books to understand what it’s like to be shot at by someone who is intent upon killing you. It’s just not possible. There are many authors who have written books or movie makers who have created epics on film (documentary and fiction) that can bring a tiny inkling, a safe and sterile view, to the uninitiated.
Karl Marlantes has written this story about a group of young boys whose lives change forever as a result of their experiences in Vietnam. This is a fiction, but it is 100% based in reality of that time period. It could easily be a non-fiction narrative; and probably is close to the experiences of many, many men who were there then. I would even think it would be painful for them to read a story such as this; similar to my godfather once telling me that he and his American Legion cronies had to walk out of the theater during Saving Private Ryan because they’d been there and done that and the memories were still close to the surface even 60 years later.
I was never a hawk when it came to this war. I’ve studied it extensively since my teen years to my middle age. It was a part of the fabric of my childhood. I think that’s why it fascinates me so. It was an unbelievable political cluster-screw. So many lives were wasted or altered completely by this event. Regardless of my beliefs about this war, I have always respected and been awed by the sacrifices that young men (and women) in the U.S. Military and its support system made during this time in history.
Again, nothing can put you in their shoes. Nothing can impress upon you what they endured. Nothing. It’s that simple. Total immersion is require for total understanding. This book by Marlantes will take you there. It will make you want to shower and search for leeches on your legs and neck. It will give you a hint of the fear these kids experienced. It will break your heart. Yet, it will only do this to you for brief instance in time while you sit in your easy chair under the reading light.
That being said, experience this book. Experience it two or three times. It’s worth the read. I don’t care if you don’t have an interest in the Vietnam War. Read it, anyway. If you’re human, it will have an effect on you. It will get you to feel. It may bring tears to your eyes. It did this to me.