Sunday, November 13, 2005

Book Review : The Things They Carried


Image from www.illyria.com


Book Review

The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien
-------------------------------------------------------------

I have just finished reading this book, about an American infantry platoon in Vietnam.

The Vietnam War had always fascinate me, how a militarily inferior army of rag tag troops can defeat a superpower, how superior firepower, napalm, jets, Agent Orange and other nasty ways of killing could not break a nation's will. We can always argue that the war is lost in the living rooms of America. That the South Vietnamese regime is corrupt, but that is another story.

The Things They Carried is, well about the things those troops carried. They carried with them rifles, ammo, mines, grenades, knives, things for killing. They carried rations, water, ponchos, radios, insect repellents, medicine, stuff to stay alive. They have with them snapshots of wives and girlfriends, bibles, talismans, dope, anything to keep them sane. But this book is really about the scars they carried during and after the war.

This book is called a work of fiction, but reading it you realised that the line between fiction and reality is very blurred. Tim O'Brien served in Vietnam, the book was dedicated to "the men of Alpha Company", which were the characters in the book. Also, one of the characters was called Tim O'Brien. Maybe the Atlanta Journal & Constitution said it best: " The imaginative retelling of the war is just as real as the war itself, maybe more so.."

So why do I like this book? I can't put a finger to it. I just like it. Maybe because of the poetic way it is written. Or is it because this is no ordinary war story book, not the die-for-your-country exhortation tale? It is not about heroes, nor glorifying any gung-ho unit account. It's about the ordinary soldier, how he's trying to stay alive in the bush, the surrealism of the war. How in a night ambush, he saw a beautiful moon shinning over the paddies. How a soldier will carry a guilt all his life, because he was unable to save a buddy from a stinking swamp. And another who went home from the war, and the war was not really over for him, because he still see the Vietcong in his house. These are the terror, the grief and horror these soldiers still carried.

Tim O’Brien wrote in the book:” It can be argued, for instance, that war is grotesque. But in truth war is also beauty. For all its horrors, you can't help but gape at the awful majesty of combat. You stare out at tracer rounds unwinding through the dark like brilliant red ribbons..... It's not pretty, exactly. It's astonishing…..”

And that’s it. An astonishing book on an ugly subject.


***
Tim O'Brien served as an infantry sergeant in the Army's Americal Division near Quang Ngai, Vietnam, in 1970-71. The Things They Carried was a finalist for both the 1990 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

15 Comments:

Blogger floots said...

I read the book a few months back - on the advice of another blogger. I agree with all that you say, particularly your final comment. I said when I read it that it made me think of John Hersey's "Hiroshima."

13 November, 2005 16:44  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

I have not read John Hersey's "Hiroshima" yet. I heard that it was a radical piece of work when it was was first published in a magazine just after WW2.

13 November, 2005 23:49  
Blogger Bluesky_Liz said...

I'll KIV this one. It's quite hard to find war books to read.

The last one I read was Voices from the Third Reich - interviews with various people of all backgrounds who lived during the time.

14 November, 2005 20:39  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

Ladies don't like war stories.
Confirmed. :)

14 November, 2005 22:36  
Blogger Bluesky_Liz said...

I must admit prefer watching war movies or war series on tv than reading it nowadays.

I am more interested in WWI and WWII than modern warfare. Used to read more war books when I was younger and was playing those pc wargames (like The Operational Art of War and Talonsoft's Campaign Series games).

At the risk of sounding like I fully agree to your rather generalised statement :) ( because I somewhat agree) -- I think women don't tend to pick up war books because it's not as easy to relate to them. The war books on the shelves are typically about male soldiers and their experiences. Women haven't been allowed to enter war as actively fighting soldiers until recently.

15 November, 2005 20:39  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

liz,
you made some keen observations here. I tend to agree with what you said.

16 November, 2005 00:21  
Blogger sigmund fraud said...

This is one of my most favorite re-read short stories. I have read it in various anthologies. But it is a book ?

12 November, 2006 23:53  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will not acquiesce in on it. I assume nice post. Especially the title attracted me to study the whole story.

15 January, 2010 07:24  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

Hi Anon

thanks for your comments! Titles are important, aren't they? :)

i think this is a good book. have you read it?

16 January, 2010 23:46  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post and this post helped me alot in my college assignement. Say thank you you as your information.

19 January, 2010 03:15  
Anonymous dsnake1 said...

Hi Anon

glad to be of help with your college assignment. anyway, to get a better understanding of the subject matter, nothing beats reading the book. :)

19 January, 2010 22:30  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good brief and this enter helped me alot in my college assignement. Gratefulness you for your information.

14 February, 2010 17:44  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

glad to be of some help. :)

15 February, 2010 00:33  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The authoritative message :), cognitively...

14 March, 2010 23:09  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

hi anon

authoritative? not really. :)
just expressing my opinion. :)

15 March, 2010 15:15  

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