Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Many thanks to Red State Librarian for bringing this novel to my attention. In spite of the cute title this is a richly detailed, nuanced story of the Vietnam experience of Army linguists that is humorous, heartwarming, and sad. The author, Richard Galli, is a former Vietnamese linguist that served around Hue,working with Vietnamese and Montagnards helping them to increase rice production and grow peanuts and watermelons. Seriously. Galli, in a powerful afterward, writes that it took him over thirty years for his frustration and anger to subside in order to control his cynicism about his experiences and tell the story he felt best captured what he wanted to say. I started reading this yesterday and except for a visit to doctor's office did not put it down until I finished it.
As a former Army linguist, albeit one that was not under imminent threat of death from all sides at all times, I can say that that it was at times a surreal job in an absurd atmosphere and that having a sense of humor and the support of comrades, like Red State and Pho and others, were the best ways of dealing with being a stranger in a strange land without going nuts. Or becoming a raging alcoholic. Okay, maybe not the latter and the jury is probably still out on the former.
This book doesn't just stand out because I can relate to it personally. It is a moving portrait of people that actually wanted to help and thought that they could make a difference. A study in the loss of innocence and naivete. I think this book holds up well with some of the other Vietnam tales: Tim O'Brien The Things They Carried, Stephen Wright's under-appreciated Meditations in Green, James Crumley's One to Count Cadence, and the short stories of Thom Jones to mention only a few. Did I mention that it is also very funny?