Steve Woods's Reviews > Going After Cacciato

Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien
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Feb 17, 13

bookshelves: vietnam-war
Read in February, 2013

I have been a soldier in both Vietnam and Cambodia. I have experienced the acute intensity and the crushing boredom of frontline infantry seervice in both places. O'Brien just captures perfectly the substance of "humpming through the bush", the buzz of being under fire, and in this novel, more importantly the surrealistic nature of the experience. Every infantry soldier, plodding their way through their tour, that terrible trial, punctuated by excitement of the most intense kind (nothing comes close to the high of being shot at and surviving, after that it's all so drole); the grotesque and bloody results of modern small arms; the pathos of the "destroy in order to save" mentality and the absolute moral vacuum created by our political leaders in that conflict, he knows the allure of the daydream as a way of escaping the inescapable.

For many this novel would have seemed very strange, the blend of the real and the unreal where the borders between the two are constantly blurring so that one just never knows where they stand in realtion to either. In the thick of it, the actual and the fantasy do bleed one into the other and often at the end of a day, a week, a month you cannot tell each from the other. It all becomes one in substance and as perceived fact and felt memory. For me this book just captures that perfectly. A snapshot of the inside of my head during most of the latter half of my own tour. I don't know whether anyone who hasn't been there can ever "get it", the intellectual effort to come to terms with what is written here would, I think, just get in the way. For those of us who know however, this piece of writing is evocative of a piece of our soul which when once removed from the absurdity of that time and place would be too easy to forget. For that reason alone it's worth a 5 in my book.
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