Everyday eBook's Reviews > Going After Cacciato

Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien
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Aug 29, 2012

it was amazing
Recommended to Everyday by: Andrew Agudo

Tim O'Brien's Going After Cacciato seems to be a bit of everything -- war reportage, Western, adventure, psychological thriller, picaresque, fantasy, and magical realism -- all rolled into one book. So, how can this be? What can support all these genres? The answer: a plea for a reprieve, an impossible wish, in the form of one soldier's mystical dream of escape.

Like many young soldiers in Vietnam, Paul Berlin is afraid. During his first six months in the country, he witnesses tragedy upon tragedy: Billy Boy Watkins is literally scared to death; Pederson is accidentally killed in the paddies; Buff is shot in the face searching a tunnel and Bernie Lynn is shot retrieving him; Lieutenant Sidney Martin, in another tunnel, is blown up by his own men. Still, what most haunts Paul Berlin is not necessarily death, but rather his questionable courage, his "knowing he will not fight well." So he copes however he can. He counts things, catalogs details, remembers camping with his father and dancing with Louise Wiertsma. But his best asset in coping is none other than his own imagination and its muse -- Cacciato.

Cacciato is a nondescript, somewhat oblivious soldier. When he deserts the squad to walk 8,600 miles to Paris, his squad chases him over mountains and jungle, before abandoning the mission, and turning back to the war. But later, having reached a post on the shore of the China Sea, Paul Berlin asks himself a simple question: What if they hadn't turned back? What would have happened? And so we're led on a fantastic journey, an altered, imagined world, where the squad refuses to turn back without Cacciato, where they continue the chase -- through Laos, Burma, and Afghanistan; through Iran, where they're arrested and almost executed; through Turkey, Greece, Yugoslavia, Germany. And the farther they chase Cacciato, the clearer it becomes: They, too, are abandoning the war. They become civilians; they stop marching and start walking; Paul Berlin even finds love. When the squad finally reaches Paris, the mission appears all but dead. They try to balance soldierly duties with newfound freedom, only to discover that to gain, and maintain, true freedom, they must soldier again -- they must capture Cacciato.

Like Paul Berlin's mind, Going After Cacciato is mixed up (though appropriately so). It jumps in time and place and story; weaves and binds together reality and imagination; leaves you with a collage of the war and its characters. Its structure is underscored by the rough, yet lyrical, prose of Tim O'Brien.

Published in 1978, Going After Cacciato won the National Book Award, cementing Tim O'Brien's place as the literary voice of the Vietnam War. This was validated in 1990 with the publication of his best-known book, The Things They Carried, and later by In the Lake of the Woods.

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