NC Weil's Reviews > Tree of Smoke

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson
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Jul 26, 12

bookshelves: vietnam, epics
Read in January, 2010

This is the best Vietnam war novel I have read. Johnson not only gives us the details of war in vivid imagery, he also creates fascinating characters and gives them a story arc in which to develop.

He gives us the life of a soldier, but also offers a young Vietnamese man unwilling to go to war, who is inevitably drafted by the Viet Cong into their struggle. And he provides a renegade CIA agent whose tactics of sabotage and kingmaking are put to use by his government in secrecy. This agent is the uncle of the soldier. He recruits his nephew, tests him and puts him to work. Clearly the young man will be corrupted by his influence, but a parental struggle takes place alongside the questions of duty and loyalty, adding another dimension to the story.

Like Tolstoy, Johnson is not content to just tell a war story. He gives us the history of the conflict (the book opens in the Philippines) and the backgrounds of the warmongers. We look above the fray, over the shoulders of the war's architects, then we go to ground and live the impact of their aloof decision-making.

Masterfully done! Read it!
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