I've read this book six or seven times and it feels new every time. As good a book as any written about Vietnam, visceral, smart, hallucinatory, funny...moreI've read this book six or seven times and it feels new every time. As good a book as any written about Vietnam, visceral, smart, hallucinatory, funny, drenched in rock and roll, and absolutely serious. Herr pretty much invented the writing style that defines the 60s to me--sort of like Dylan in prose. What makes it more than a tour-de-force is Herr's absolute clarity--Baldwinian--that death is at the center of it all and that the real American tragedy is our refusal to admit or deal with it. (less)
As good on the second read as it was on the first, maybe better. Marlantes does a brilliant job both with the specifics of Vietnam--racial tensions, t...moreAs good on the second read as it was on the first, maybe better. Marlantes does a brilliant job both with the specifics of Vietnam--racial tensions, the screwed up hierarchy, insane battle plans--and with the psychological and spiritual journey of the protagonist as he wrests the only possible meanings out of a meaningless mess. Stands beside Michael Herr's Dispatches, Alfredo Vea's Gods Go Begging and Yusef Komyunakaa's poetry collection Dien Cai Dau as the definitive literature to emerge from Vietnam. (less)
The best book about Vietnam and its impact on American society. The terrifying thing is that it feels even more immediate now than it did when it was...moreThe best book about Vietnam and its impact on American society. The terrifying thing is that it feels even more immediate now than it did when it was published in 1998. Then, Vea was unsparing in his vision of how the nation's refusal to honestly confront Vietnam was playing out in the lives of veterans and on the streets of our cities (in this case primarily the Bay Area, where Vea works as a defense lawyer specializing in major crimes--the book's worth it simply for protagonist Jesse Passadoble's explanation of why he defends people about whom he's not in the least deluded). Jesse's reflection the fact that America had expected to win in Vietnam without sacrifice that went beyond the troops is even more obvious in relation to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the 1990s, even more in the 2010s, the price of our evasions continues to be paid, consciously by the vets and their loved ones, evasively by the rest of the society is.
Beyond that, Gods Go Begging is simply a great novel. Writing in a style that juxtaposes lyricism with harsh realities Vea weaves together the stories of three hills: the ghetto wasteland of Potrero Hill in SF; a hill near the Laotian border in Vietnam; and a hill in Mexico where the fascinating spiritual drama of the "padre," a chaplain who abandoned his post in Vietnam and then works through his destiny, begins. The center of Vea's aesthetic and moral vision is in the sentence, repeated several times in several languages, "everything turns on jazz." Vea fiercely resists the notion that we're simply stuck with our fate, a theme he plays out around a white supremacist accused of child abuse (itself a central theme); a young black man on trial for murder; the young men in Vietnam--most of them black, Latin, Indian, immigrant, Southern or poor; and Jesse himself.
I've re-read this book more than a half dozen times and I'll continue doing so as long as I have the strength to turn pages.(less)
Still the best book of poetry to come out of the Vietnam War. Komunyakaa takes the experiences of his personae at an angle, crafting images to reflect...moreStill the best book of poetry to come out of the Vietnam War. Komunyakaa takes the experiences of his personae at an angle, crafting images to reflect the various confrontations, deflections, evasions, blues memories that cycle in and out of focus. The collection's structured to move the reader from the middle of the jungle to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the stunning final poem, "Facing It." Each of the voices is so convincing it's tempting to read the collection as autobiographical, but that's true only in the loosest imaginable way. Komunyakaa had written powerful poetry and he's still writing it, but for me Dien Cai Dau remains the high point of a career that's earned him a place in the top rank of American poets, including Whitman, Dickinson, Adrienne Rich, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost [insert your favorites here].(less)