Who wrote this book and when?
Tim O’Brien wrote this book in 1990. Five of the sections were originally published in magazines, including Playboy.
Has a movie been made of it?
No. Only the section “The Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong” was made into a film – starring Kiefer Sutherland and called “A Soldier’s Sweetheart.” It was released in 1998.
Who are the main characters?
Tim O’Brien – the narrator, a soldier who fought in Vietnam
Kiowa – a Native American, son of a Baptist preacher, soldier who fought in Vietnam, one of O’Brien’s best friends
First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross – the squad leader
Rat Kiley – the squad’s medic and one of the chief tale tellers of the squad
Norman Bowker – another of Kiowa’s best buds in the squad
Mitchell Sanders – part of the squad, the radio operator and chief tale teller of the squad
Henry Dobbins – the squad’s machine gunner
What is it about?
This novel is divided into short sections which tell about the different members of the squad – their past, their present, their war experiences, their deaths. It would be impossible for me to give a plot synopsis without ruining anything. There are 21 sections, about everything from how men died to their lucky talismans, to their urban legends.
Why is this book a classic?
This is one of the most honest books about war in existence. It doesn’t necessarily go into the violence or the fighting; there are no descriptions of troop movements or discourses on formation and operating procedure. This book is about the men. It is about their thoughts, dreams, burdens. Their scarred pasts and shattered futures. Their attempts to heal, and the ways they died.
Why should I read this book?
For a better understanding of shell shock. To reach into your past in an attempt to connect to someone who has been lost. Out of respect. To make a soldier human again.
Has it won any awards?
This book was elected “Editor’s Choice” in 1990 by the New York Times Book Review and a National magazine award.
“War is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead. The truths are contradictory. It can be argued, for instance, that war is grotesque. But in truth war is also beauty. For all its horror, you can’t help but gape at the awful majesty of combat. You stare out at tracer rounds unwinding through the dark like brilliant red ribbons. You crouch in ambush as a cool, impassive moonrises over the nighttime paddies. You admire the fluid symmetries of troops on the move, the harmonies of sound and shape and roportion, the great sheets of metal-fire streaming down from a dunship, the illumination rounds, the white phosphorus, the purply orange glow of napalm, the rockets’ red glare.” – pg 87
After reading this book, I’m going to check out O’Brien’s other books as well.
I don’t particularly enjoy war books. They make me hurt inside for days after I’ve finished them. But that doesn’t stop me from reading them. For many men and women, writing about their experiences is the best way to heal. It is for O’Brien. It probably would have been for Norman Browker. It’s how I heal from my petty little injuries. They deserve to be read.