annotated bibliographies

Fiction--Danziger to Ely

 

Danziger, Jeff.  Rising Like the Tucson. (Doubleday, 1991).

“Jeff Danziger has written a tough, scary, funny novel that deftly limns the overwhelming lunacy of the war in Vietnam. Large in scope, rich in character and incident,
Rising Like the Tucson gets things exactly right. This was Vietnam: a weird mix of blundering and bravery.” (Tim O’Brien)

 


Davis, George. Coming Home (Howard University Press, reprint, 1984).

Coming Home,
penned by Air Force and newspaper veteran George Davis, is the tale of three fighter pilots in Vietnam who become best friends and later bitter enemies. Ben is the Harvard-educated black man who goes AWOL to protest and escape from what he considers the insanity of war.  Childress, also black, is a slickster who seduces Ben’s wife.  Stacy Press is a white liberal who comes to hate and distrust all blacks, including Ben and Childress, his former buddies. Each becomes a victim of betrayal, racism, and jealousy as the strains of war, blind ambition, and lust rip at the very seams of their lives.  Mel Watkins, an editor of The New York Times Book Review, contributes a penetrating introduction to this edition of Coming Home, onethat places the novel squarely in the context of the times in which it was written. The work also contains an appen­dix of reviews the book received upon first publication.

 


Del Vecchio, John MThe 13th Valley (Bantam, 1982).
Maps and actual army reports add realistic detail to the story of the taking of a strategic valley as experienced by a handful of soldiers from Alpha Company of the 101st Airborne. The author intertwines the lives of the soldiers in "Nam" with their pasts and their dreams of the future, showing the friendship and tension between the men as well as the difficulty of reconciling their lives as soldiers with their civilian lives.

 


DeMille, NelsonUp Country (Warner Books, 2002).

There is a name carved into the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., of an American army lieutenant whose death is shrouded in mystery. The authorities have reason to believe that he was not killed by the enemy, or by friendly fire; they suspect he was murdered.


At first, Paul Brenner, himself a Vietnam vet, isn't interested in investigating the case. After his forced retirement from the army's Criminal Investigation Division, he has adapted to the life of a civilian with a comfortable pension. Then his old boss, Karl Hellmann, summons him to the Vietnam Memorial to call in a career's worth of favors. Hellmann tells Brenner of the circumstances surrounding the officer's death, and gives him this much to go on: The incident happened over three decades ago in Vietnam; the only evidence is a recently discovered letter written by an enemy soldier describing an act of shocking violence. The name of the North Vietnamese soldier is known, but not his present whereabouts, or even if he is alive or dead.


Brenner's assignment: Return to Vietnam and find the witness. The addendum: The mission is very important to the U.S. Army. Brenner's the ideal man for the job. And it's in his best interest that he doesn't know what this case is really about.

 


DeMille, Nelson. Word of Honor (Warner Books, 1985).

Business executive Ben Tyson thinks he has put his Vietnam experience behind him, until a best-selling book alleges that, during the war, he was responsible for the destruction of a hospital and the massacre of civilians. Ben finds himself reactivated and facing a court-martial with two of his own men going back on their word of honor not to talk about the event. Vivid flashbacks and taut courtroom scenes reveal what actually happened.

 

DeMott, Wes. Walking K. (Admiral House, 1998).

Former Vietnam POW Jacob Slaughter is sent to Hanoi to negotiate a trade agreement on behalf of the United States. Back in-country, he is escorted to a rotting building where he is outraged to find his former cellmate and friend, Captain Charles Wooten, still being held. Wooten's condition is pathetic but he's alive. How much longer is up to Slaughter. Slaughter returns to Washington and fights for the trade concessions Vietnam has demanded before they'll give Wooten and 22 other American soldiers their freedom.

 


Deutermann, Peter T. The Edge of Honor (St. Martin’s Press, 1995).

Leaving his beautiful wife Maddy in San Diego, Lieutenant Brian Holcomb embarks on an eight-month tour of duty in the South China Sea at the height of the Vietnam War. Once at sea he must deal with the drug-abusing crew of a guided missile frigate and prepare them for a confrontation with North Vietnam's MIGs.

 


Didion, Joan. Democracy (Vintage International, reissue, 1995).

Inez Victor knows that the major casualty of the political life is memory. But the people around Inez have made careers out of losing track. Her senator husband wants to forget the failure of his last bid for the presidency. Her husband's handler would like the press to forget that Inez's father is a murderer. And, in 1975, the year in which much of this bitterly funny novel is set, America is doing its best to lose track of its one-time client, the lethally hemorrhaging republic of South Vietnam.


As conceived by Joan Didion, these personages and events constitute the terminal fallout of democracy, a fallout that also includes fact-finding junkets, senatorial groupies, the international arms market, and the Orwellian newspeak of the political class. Moving deftly from Honolulu to Jakarta, between romance, farce, and tragedy, Democracy is a tour de force from a writer who can dissect an entire society with a single phrase.

 


Dodge, Ed. Dau (Macmillian, 1984).

Morgan Preston’s pain ("dau" in Vietnamese) does not end with the horror he experienced during his stint in Vietnam. It continues when he returns to his small Michigan town where he is ostracized by the townspeople, and his symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder land him in the psychiatric ward of the VA hospital. Scenes of graphic sex and violence, all recounted by a detached narrator, create a feeling of futility, even though Morgan ultimately recovers and the ending is hopeful.


Doolittle, Jerome. The Bombing Officer (Dutton, 1982).

A young American diplomat turns against the war when he is assigned to approve bombing targets in Laos.

 


Downs, Frederick, Jr. The Killing Zone (W.W. Norton, 2007).

Frederick Downs Jr. arrived in Vietnam in 1967 as a young Army infantry lieutenant fresh out of Officer Candidate School. Downs paints a horrific portrait of life and death in the jungle with the U.S. Army’s Fourth Division, complete with Viet Cong booby-traps, friendly fire incidents, deadly ambushes and unmotivated South Vietnamese troops. Downs himself is gravely wounded in the fighting, stepping on a Bouncing Betty landmine in 1968 that blows off most of his left arm and sends deadly shrapnel into the rest of his body. Downs later spent a year recovering from his wounds at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Denver.

 


Durden, Charles. No Bugles No Drums (Viking Press, 1976).

Because war acts to accentuate traditional gender role distinctions, men suffering the stresses of combat are forced to adopt exaggeratedly "masculine" personality traits to survive. The Armed Forces mentality is geared to perpetuate those distinctions. One of the healthiest characters in any Vietnam novel, Private Hawkins of Charles Durden's
No Bugles No Drums, puts it in this manner: I still can't see no virtue in bein' all man 'n' no boy. 'Specially when bein' all man means killin' or never questionin', just sorta lying down so's you don't get in the way of those that think they know how everything should be. I heard a lot of people sayin' a man's gotta do this, do that. A man's life is this way or that way. Those that said it to me, I most often told to stuff it. Hawkins is also very aware of the role models he has been given. He immediately questions the expectations that others have of him when he receives his orders for Vietnam: I...wondered, just for a moment, what would happen if we all went back to bed. No way. We'd all seen too many John Wayne movies. (Adapted from an essay by Kali Tal, “The Mind at War”)

 


Eastlake, William. The Bamboo Bed (Simon & Schuster, 1969).

Written shortly after William Eastlake's return from Vietnam where he was a reporter for
The Nation, The Bamboo Bed was one of the first novels to proclaim the insanity of the Vietnam War. The plot revolves around Captain Calncy, who—mortally wounded while leading a charge up Ridge Red Boy--lies dying in a bamboo bed. His final thoughts about the war are juxtaposed against the escapades of Captain Knightbridge and Nurse Jane of the Search & Rescue Unit, who copulate in the helicopter--the "Bamboo Bed"--at 10,000 feet, setting a wartime record. Down below, two hippie kids wander the jungle trying to end the Vietnam War with a dream and a guitar.

 

Elliot, Duong Van Mai. The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family (Oxford University Press, 2000).

Duong Van Mai Elliott's
The Sacred Willow, an extraordinary narrative woven from the lives of four generations of her own family, illuminates fascinating--and until now unexplored--strands of Vietnamese history. Beginning with her great-grandfather and continuing to the present, Mai Elliott traces her family's journey through a long era of tumultuous change. She tells of childhood hours in her grandmother's silk shop--and of hiding while French troops torched her village. She reveals the agonizing choices that split Vietnamese families: her eldest sister left their staunchly anti-communist home to join the Viet Minh and then spent months sleeping with her infant son in jungle camps, fearing air raids by day and tigers by night. And she follows several family members through the last, desperate hours of the fall of Saigon--including one nephew who tried to escape by grabbing the skid of a departing American helicopter.

 

Ely, Scott.  Starlight (Wiedenfeld & Nicholson, 1987).

Combat. Jungle rot. Death. Jackson is so terrified of dying, he gasps for air like a fish out of water. He has 300 days left to serve when Tom Light shows up. The other troops threaten mutiny. No one survives when Light is around. Jackson believes in the eerie property of the starlight viewfinder on Light’s rifle which predicts who will die, so Jackson strikes a bargain with Light. Hallucinations from drugs mingle with the horrors of war in this harrowing account.

 


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