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If I Die in a Combat Zone (Paladin Books) Paperback – 24 Apr 1995
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By the same author as "Northern Lights", "Going after Cacciato" and "The Nuclear Age", this book presents a first hand account of the author's time spent serving as an infantry sergeant in the Vietnamese War.
From the Back Cover
First published in 1973, this intensely personal account of one foot soldier’s tour of duty in Vietnam established National Book Award-winner Tim O’Brien’s reputation as the outstanding chronicler of the Vietnam experience for a generation of Americans.
With simplicity and power he describes the remarkable events that would later inspire his award-winning novels 'Going After Cacciato' and 'The Things They Carried'. From basic training to the front line and back again, he takes the reader on an unforgettable journey – walking the minefields of My Lai, fighting the heat and the snipers in an alien land, crawling into the ghostly tunnels – as he explores the ambiguities of manhood and morality in a war no one believes in.
“No one has written about the Vietnam War with the eloquence of Tim O’Brien. 'If I Die in a Combat Zone' may be the single greatest piece of work to come out of Vietnam – on a level with World War II’s 'The Naked and the Dead' and 'From Here to Eternity'.”
“A personal document of aching clarity … O’Brien brilliantly and quietly evokes the foot soldier’s daily life in the paddies and foxholes. A beautiful, painful book.”
NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
“A work of passion and protest which is strong at every point and must be one of the few good things to come out of that desolating struggle.”
“I wish O’Brien did not write so beautifully, for he makes it impossible to forget his book. Years from now it will still have that terrible power to make me remember and to make me weep.”
GLORIA EMERSON, 'New York Times'
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There was not as much action in it as I normally like. The author often times wanders into speculations about common themes to war like the nature of courage, what makes war just etc., but this in itself is actually very well done and very interesting, so didn't detract from the book for me. It still very successfully portrays the mixture of tedium and terror that was the lot of the author as an infantryman in Vietnam though, constantly in terror of mines and booby traps, snipers and ambushes. It also has beautifully described imagery.
More importantly though, this book is a criticism of a war that the author saw as very wrong, but which his obligations to society led him to enter anyway, despite very thorough planning to dodge his draft by fleeing to Canada and then Sweden. For me this was the most interesting part of the book, as the author deliberately writes in a detached way. Like an outside commentator, wanting to hate everything about the US ARMY but most especially the government for sending him to fight a wrong war. Yet by the end we see he is just the same as all the other soldiers. Just as confused and conflicted.
From this perspective then, it is a book all politicians and anyone quick to judge their soldiers as murderers should read as the author discusses arguments about war and courage as old as time. It shows the pain and suffering all those involved went through, from the soldiers of both sides to the civilians caught in the middle. Suffering common as such to all wars. And ultimately it shows the often impossible position governments place their people in by sending them to war with little or no consideration for those men, so that as in Vietnam, their own people turned on the soldiers who were viewed as murderers of innocents. Yet this book clearly shows how hard discerning enemy from friend was in this guerrilla style war.
As such this book is, despite being short, an all encompassing memorial to all those caught up in this war, and as the reviews on the cover say, will stay with the reader. But then this is true for all books about this conflict I have read, with excellent other examples being:
'Once a Warrior King.'
'We Were Soldiers Once and Young.'
'To the Limit.'
'The Boys of '67.'
From his initial draft into the army, through basic training and fighting on the front line, Tim O’Brien’s first hand and philosophical account of a foot soldier’s tour of duty in Vietnam packs a poignant punch. This memoir touches upon the atrocities committed at My Lai, an event the U.S army buried deep for one year before the realities of the massacre came to light. O’Brien infuses the brutal account with poetry, philosophy and his own battle coming to terms with being drafted into a war he did not believe in. This book is an oldie, it’s still a goodie worth reading if you’re interested in the Vietnam war and it’s human toll.
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