In Pharaoh's Army: Memories of the Lost War
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In Pharaoh's Army: Memories of the Lost War

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  1,358 ratings  ·  118 reviews
Whether he is evoking the blind carnage of the Tet offensive, the theatrics of his fellow Americans, or the unraveling of his own illusions, Wolff brings to this work the same uncanny eye for detail, pitiless candor and mordant wit that made This Boy's Life a modern classic.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
ebook, 240 pages
Published September 1st 2010 by Vintage (first published October 1994)
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Eric_W
In this extraordinary memoir of Wolff’s Vietnam experience, there is a haunting scene that reveals the major cultural differences between the American soldiers and Vietnamese culture. Wolff was a first lieutenant (he was a special forces member) assigned as an adviser to a South Vietnamese unit. He had spent a year at language school in the United States and was fluent in Vietnamese. He and some ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) soldiers are hanging out when two of the ARVN find a small pup...more
Brian
Tobias Wolff must drive writing instructors nuts. His prose is easy, lucid, and wonderfully effective... but its sheer easiness, lucidity, and effectiveness makes it impossible to crack. Like George Orwell's, his style is a zenlike no-style -- no splashy effects, no tricky wordplay, nothing you can latch onto and say "yes, that's how he does it!"

It's also dangerous. Because Wolff feels like he's in your head while you read him, it's so very easy to take everything he says at face value. Which i...more
Ayelet Waldman
Only one of the best short stories writers alive today. This is killer.
Angie
War stories are really my brother's forte, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's a memoir of Vietnam, and because I read it for a Creative Non-Fiction class, I'm left wondering whether a few things actually happened. Is truth crazier than fiction?

I also really loved the interjections of writerly advice within the narrative, and wish Wolff would have given us more. A young man overseas, always with a novel in the back of his head. In many ways, I related. In many ways, I found truth within his...more
Carol Storm
A Gentleman Goes To War.

THIS BOY'S LIFE by Tobias Wolff is a classic. In that book he does a brilliant job capturing the ugliness of class prejudice in America, and the twisted strategems people use to rise in class.

Unfortunately, this book is not so much about Vietnam as it is about Wolff's presence in Vietnam -- in other words, what's really on display is not his courage or patriotism but his, shall we say, genteel powers of detachment. He's always saying, "look, most of the grunts were low...more
Lisa
I've only read 2 of Tobias Wolff's works -- both memoirs: This Boy's Life and now In Pharoah's Army. These two works have left me with an impression of him as a writer that strikes me as similar to my impression of writers like Jack London, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway. Similar, but not the same. In ways, he has that "man's man" thing about his writing that they have. In other ways, he is much more gut-wrenchingly honest and allows himself a vulnerability that I can't imagine someone lik...more
Michael
The Vietnam War memoir has been harder than expected to find. tim o'brien is probably the famous name of the genre, but as it turns out, he is writing fictionalizations. Guns Up! is strong and full-throated in its one way. Enter Tobias Wolff. At first echoing will manchester's (ww2 vet) seemingly distant /dissociated/ even perverse confrontation with the absurdities and hollowness of war, Wolff quickly gets involved in a slightly mournful but at times mordant dissection of military realities. He...more
Andres Eguiguren
I've read a lot of books about Vietnam over the years, but I still enjoyed Wolff's fresh perspective as a first lieutenant. His willingness to more or less describe himself as a coward in the face of danger and his attention to detail in describing his year in My Tho in the Mekong Delta at the time of the Tet Offensive make this a good read regardless of how much you know about the Vietnam-U.S. war. Although best known as a short story writer, I'm looking forward to reading his memoir A Boy's Li...more
Albert
When I describe Wolff's work to people, I say he's probably the most emulated short story writer in America. You have to read one of his stories and have read a lot of american creative writing work to know what I mean. And these are memoirs, which is pretty indicative of american fiction.

He has the clarity of a baldwin, the structures of carver, and seems to have lived a life like hemingway. I don't recognize his tone, which is often a little cruel, so I'll say it's distinctly Wolff.

This is p...more
Hilary
I really like memoir, and this was no exception. Vietnam era stuff sometimes gets to me because of my dad's experience and the resulting psychological trauma, but this was really well done. Wolff is an honest storyteller who didn't shy away from painting himself in a less than stellar light. This isn't really a "front lines of battle" kind of war memoir, though clearly we get some of that. It's more about the situation he found himself in, constant struggle he felt throughout, his platoon, frien...more
Maggi
Good book but not long enough to go as deeply as I would have liked. While chronicling a year's military tour in Vietnam, Wolff renders that hazardous and appalling situation in as clear a way as I have ever read, offering up with stark clarity the dehumanizing aspects of war, the terrible compromises that must be made, and the sacrifices of conscience that go along with being a soldier.
Jimmy
One of the best and wildest of the Vietnam books. The Wolffster way up on his game.
Jesse
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Patrick McCoy
In Pharaoh’s Army is the follow-up to Tobias Wolff’s excellent memoir A Boy’s Life about growing up in Concrete, Washington in the 60s. Essentially, he conned himself into an elite boarding school as a teenager and then flunked out and joined the army in order to gain life experiences for the writing career he dreamed about. This well-written memoir is mostly about his experiences as an officer in Vietnam. The book is divided into several vignettes, rather than being written in a straightforward...more
Simon
I read it in a day. It has great flow and Wolff is remarkably assured in his lean and simple style. His writing, despite being occasionally bombastic, is really something to treasure. He has a great sense of craft, and understands the art of cutting away at a story, until it stands firm and without anything superfluous, all the while never losing it's lively, thoughtful momentum. There is this double-edged perspective, where the mature Wolff ponders and emphatically criticises, and the young Wol...more
Diocletian
There is a reason I like reading memoirs. I like reading something that is real, not something fake, or fictional, that is impossible or improbable, but something that could happen to anyone. As the old saying goes, "Truth is stranger than fiction."

This memoir does not disappoint. It covers Tobias Wolff's life immediately before, during, and immediately after the Vietnam War. Like many memoirs of the war, it shows the Vietnam War as a foolish and meaningless endeavor, fighting an enemy that c...more
Nicole
If I had to pick one word to describe this book, I think it would be “insightful.” Wolff’s prose is a great combination of snappy-smart and lovely and his pacing pulls us along comfortably. Rather than give us an entirely linear account, he does this thing that works well for him where he hands us a story, then talks about something else for a while, then comes back to that story from a different angle or telling a different part of it, and the seemingly unrelated stuff sandwiched in the middle...more
Chris
Wolff lovers are in the odd position of being grateful for his cowardice, without which his memoirs could not have been written. In Pharao's Army is a good, fluid book, full of the heat and air of Vietnam, but strangely vacant. The author offers no climax, little action, and only the unredeeming (and unsurprising) exhortation to persist. As much as this book promises to be a book about Vietnam, it is really about Wolff's attempts to manage his image among those close to him, a series of dramatic...more
Caitlin
I loved This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff so reading his memoir of his time in Vietnam was a no-brainer. It is well-written and tells of Vietnam in a succinct almost detached fashion that maximizes the available horror. In particular, Wolff's description of the impact of the Tet Offensive will haunt me to my grave in the way that Michael Herr's description of Hue has.

Wolff is less the soldier and more the writer throughout the book and you wonder how he got himself there. In many ways the book is...more
Kip Arney
I was very surprised that I liked “In Pharaoh’s Army” by Tobias Wolff. A memoir of sorts that if I didn’t know better, would believe it was a work of fiction. I’m not a big fan, or a fan at all, of reading about wars or battles, fiction or non. But Wolff does an excellent job of picking moments of his life, mainly from his time in Vietnam, and lets the readers see what he sees. The most “real” portion of the book was immediately following his discharge after four years of service and him not kno...more
Jarred Zelenski
If you read his memoir, This Boy's Life, I highly recommend you read this one also. The voice he uses in the aforementioned book resonates in this book. It serves as a "sequel" of sorts, since he joined the military after the events of This Boy's Life, as mentioned in the book. I was expecting the book to be a recollection of stories from the battlefield, and how these clashes changed him. However, I was wrong. Rather, it is a recollection of some instances before the war, including a woman he w...more
John Maberry
May 14, 2014 John Maberry rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one, except for contrast or comparison
This is not among the best of the Vietnam books out there, in my opinion--despite what the critics say, who genuflect before Wolff. There is something about Wolff that puts me off. I couldn't empathize with him in reading This Boys Life. I could understand how critics would think well of it--it does READ well. But as a person, I didn't like him. He carries this unlikablity (not as bad as Dubya, mind you) into In Pharoah's Army. I didn't like how he managed to become an officer in the Army. Someh...more
Tommy
(This book counts as 2 books)

if you want to read a good war book, this is a book right up your alley. it talks about the battle aspect and the mind state of war. the before, during and the after.

the Vietnam war was a very, very, very bad war. the landscape and the minds. it was not a war fit for American troops. all the vet could think about was his traumatizing experiences from war. the noise of exploitations, landmines and claymores still ring in his mind and still scare him to the day. it t...more
Ryan
Beautifully written, and not a war book in the normal sense of the term. Many opportunities to explore the human condition in between the tedium and profound self-doubt of being in a position of some power during active duty, and the confusion of being done with the whole thing.
Brian
I have liked everything that Tobias Wolf has written, including this book, in which he reveals a little more of his life, this time as a young adult. After finishing high school and embarking on college, he flounders with a lack of motivation and direction, and ultimately ends up enlisting in the U.S. Army and serving a twelve-month tour in Vietnam. I found that part of the book to be the most interesting, although his time leading up to the tour and his discussion of his post-Army days to be eq...more
David Ward
In Pharaoh's Army: Memories of the Lost War by Tobias Wolff (Vintage Books 1994)(Biography). This tale is about a Wolff in Vietnam as a special forces officer. DNF. My rating: 4/10, finished 5/23/14.
Alborz Taheri
توبیاس وولف در ادبیات از یک جهت یادآورِ هانکه در سینماست برای من . خیلی "ساده" شما رو با چیزی رو به رو می کنه که شوکه می شوید . لحظاتی در داستان های وولف وجود دارند که شما باید کتاب رو بگذارید زمین کمی نفس بکشید و بعد ادامه بدهید ! ادامه دادن خوندن بی فایده است چون آن جملات و تصاویر تمرکز را از شما می گیرند و مجبور می شوید دوباره برگردید و از اول شروع کنید به خواندن آن بخش .
این کتابش درباره جنگِ ویتنام و تجربیاتِ شخصی خودش است . رمانی است که در واقع از مجموعه ایی داستان کوتاه تشکیل شده است . اوا...more
Michele
I liked the writing. The content wasn't what I was hoping for in this book - and that's not really fair since this is basically this author's experience in the vietnam war. Maybe that's because he wasn't in the "action". But his emotions and daily life in Vietnam weren't that compelling- the book left me wanting more.
Sam
I don't have much to say about "In Pharaoh's Army" except that I found it to be a good read. Since this is a book centered around a young man and his time before and after serving in the army It is not the kind of reading material I would have originally bought. Yet I'm happy to say I found it to be a great read, and am so glad my class required me to read it.

I highly recommend "In Pharaoh's Army" to anyone who is a fan of books about soldiers and war, as well as to anyone who is just looking f...more
Andrew
10 Stars. One of the best books I've read, not often a reading brings tears to my eyes, certainly the best on the Vietnam War. Wolff breaks everything down, disintegrates notions and norms, what it is to be a man. Yet, at the end, you feel strong.
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Tobias Jonathan Ansell Wolff is a writer of fiction and nonfiction.

He is best known for his short stories and his memoirs, although he has written two novels.

Wolff is the Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University, where he has taught classes in English and creative writing since 1997. He also served as the director of the Creative Writ...more
More about Tobias Wolff...
This Boy's Life Old School The Night in Question Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories In the Garden of the North American Martyrs

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“In the very act of writing I felt pleased with what I did. There was the pleasure of having words come to me, and the pleasure of ordering them, re-ordering them, weighing one against another. Pleasure also in the imagination of the story, the feeling that it could mean something. Mostly I was glad to find out that I could write at all. In writing you work toward a result you won't see for years, and can't be sure you'll ever see. It takes stamina and self-mastery and faith. It demands those things of you, then gives them back with a little extra, a surprise to keep you coming. It toughens you and clears your head. I could feel it happening. I was saving my life with every word I wrote, and I knew it.” 10 likes
“Lose Faith. Pray anyway. Persist. We are made to persist, to complete the whole tour. That's how we find out who we are.” 2 likes
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