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Going After Cacciato [Paperback]

Tim O'Brien
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb. 1 1979
"To call Going After Cacciato a novel about war is like calling Moby Dick a novel about whales."

So wrote The New York Times of Tim O'Brien's now classic novel of Vietnam. Winner of the 1979 National Book Award, Going After Cacciato captures the peculiar blend of horror and hallucinatory comedy that marked this strangest of wars. Reality and fantasy merge in this fictional account of one private's sudden decision to lay down his rifle and begin a quixotic journey from the jungles of Indochina to the streets of Paris. Will Cacciato make it all the way? Or will he be yet another casualty of a conflict that seems to have no end? In its memorable evocation of men both fleeing and meeting the demands of battle, Going After Cacciato stands as much more than just a great war novel. Ultimately it's about the forces of fear and heroism that do battle in the hearts of us all.

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"In October, near the end of the month, Cacciato left the war."

In Tim O'Brien's novel Going After Cacciato the theater of war becomes the theater of the absurd as a private deserts his post in Vietnam, intent on walking 8,000 miles to Paris for the peace talks. The remaining members of his squad are sent after him, but what happens then is anybody's guess: "The facts were simple: They went after Cacciato, they chased him into the mountains, they tried hard. They cornered him on a small grassy hill. They surrounded the hill. They waited through the night. And at dawn they shot the sky full of flares and then they moved in.... That was the end of it. The last known fact. What remained were possibilities."

It is these possibilities that make O'Brien's National Book Award-winning novel so extraordinary. Told from the perspective of squad member Paul Berlin, the search for Cacciato soon enters the realm of the surreal as the men find themselves following an elusive trail of chocolate M&M's through the jungles of Indochina, across India, Iran, Greece, and Yugoslavia to the streets of Paris. The details of this hallucinatory journey alternate with feverish memories of the war--men maimed by landmines, killed in tunnels, engaged in casual acts of brutality that would be unthinkable anywhere else. Reminiscent of Joseph Heller's Catch-22, Going After Cacciato dishes up a brilliant mix of ferocious comedy and bleak horror that serves to illuminate both the complex psychology of men in battle and the overarching insanity of war. --Alix Wilber


"Simply put, the best novel written about the war. I do not know . . . any writer, journalist, or novelist who does not concede that position to O'Brien's Going After Cacciato."
--Miami Herald

"A novel of great beauty and importance."
--Boston Globe

"Stark . . . rhapsodic. . . . It is a canvas painted vividly, hauntingly, disturbingly by Tim O'Brien."
--Los Angeles Times

"As a fictional portrait of this war, Going After Cacciato is hard to fault, and will be hard to better."
--John Updike, The New Yorker

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lives up to the hype - close to a masterpiece March 28 2004
This book is the perfect blend of fiction based on a very-real factual setting for the Vietnam War and a form of 'magic realism' akin to Gabriel Garcia Marquez to tell a powerful story and make a powerful condemnation of the war. What's most impressive is that this book was written before O'Brien had cut his teeth on later more successful books like 'Things They Carried.'
Some reviewers have complained about the distortion caused by the intertwining storylines and shifts in time and focus, but they are not muddled at all and the book is very easy to maintain. This is what elevates the book beyond mere storytelling or fictionalized factual accounts. You can read other reviews for a synopsis of the story - my two-cents is that this book lives up to the hype and works to perfection. O'Brien is one of only two fiction writers still in their 'prime' so to speak and putting out books somewhat regularly that I will look for and buy (other being Phillip Roth).
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4.0 out of 5 stars Book: rare. Publicity: way, way overdone. July 2 2003
Tim O'Brien, Going After Cacciato (Dell, 1978)
...P>Going After Cacciato is both the story of a troop of soldiers sent to pursue Cacciato, a comrade who deserted, and the story of one member of that troop, PFC Paul Berlin, spending the night in an observation post. For those who haven't yet read it, I won't spoil it by saying how those two stories intertwine. Cacciato has somehow glommed onto the odd idea that it's possible to walk from Vietnam to Paris, and has decided to set out doing just that. The soldiers follow him, reaching a critical point when they cross the border into Laos, and ultimately decide to keep going. They get farther and farther from Vietnam, but find that the shenanigans of the war stay with them pretty much wherever they go; as a Viet Cong officer they meet in Laos tells them, "the land is your enemy."
In that sense, yes, it is most certainly a novel about the Vietnam War and how it sticks in the heads of veterans long after they've left the field (though some of the tricks O'Brien pulls toward the end of the novel undercut that). And it is a good one; the very absurdity of the plot is enough to keep the reader flipping pages. But if one is looking for the definitive Vietnam War novel, one is probably better served searching out Gustav Hasford's brilliant short novel The Short-Timers (upon which the film Full Metal Jacket is based, albeit loosely) or, perhaps, Lucius Shepard's Life During Wartime.
Not to say Cacciato is not well-written, engaging, fun to read, and an overall darn fine book. It is all of those things, and I have spent far more of this review denigrating the buildup than the actual book (as my rating will surely convey).
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4.0 out of 5 stars Apocalypse Then Jan. 31 2003
"Ignore the bad stuff, look for the good." Paul Berlin, our mostly reliable narrator of an unreliable and surreal war, remembers these words from his father when the two of them camped out along the Des Moines river one summer, when the chief threat was probably no more than a mosquito bite. He recalls these words on a night march not long after watching one compatriot die from fright and another couple shot to pieces in a forced tunnel search by their implacable lieutenant. As much as Paul Berlin wants to wake up from the war, the reader is drawn to the vividly sketched details of this dreamscape. There is a surreal quality to Tim O'Brien's writing (rather than wait for Godot, the soldiers chase the ghost of an enigmatic private) that mixes brisk humor with desultory maiming and death. It's as immediate and unembellished as the ground these soldiers walk, crouch, crawl, recline, and fall on; a Vietnam "Catch 22".
O'Brien pretty much dispenses with plot in order to communicate (in penetrating detail) the haze of war. The soldiers straggle through a boobytrapped landscape on their way to Paris, ostensibly to bring back their defected comrade (rendered by O'Brien as a cipher, a Pillsbury Doughboy who should have boarded the bus for summer camp, but instead was shipped to Vietnam), but realize after awhile that Cacciato, in his naive way, is fulfilling their own fantasy of escaping from this unwinnable war - a goading from Cacciato to follow in his footsteps.
This long day's journey into night is lightened by O'Brien's quirkily drawn characters (like trigger-happy Stink Harris and tough, sometimes sly, Oscar Johnson) and the fracturing of time.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Hallucinatory, Surreal, Brilliant Nov. 3 2002
Of all the books that I have read on the Vietnam War, this is the only one that truly captures the mindset of insanity that makes it a worthy Vietnam testament. Going After Cacciato is an incredible novel, Tim O'Brien artfully interweaves fact and fiction, fantasy and reality, past and present, appearance and truth all so seamlessly that it seems only natural. It is a totally unique novel.
The novel is about an idealistic soldier, Cacciato, who one day decides to leave the war. He abandons his post and heads off to Paris. Then the story becomes more surreal as his squad pursues him through the streets of Mandalay and Delhi and through Kabul and Tehran as they all get closer to deliverance. Meanwhile, the protagonist, Paul Berlin, recalls how things used to be when a young lieutenant was in charge of the brigade, as well as everything from childhood to one particular night on the observation post. The plot begins to play with reality to an increasing extent, but the story remains engaging to the end.
One wonderful thing about this book is its absolute recollection of the life of a soldier. In a book like this that exposes the reader to the true life of a soldier, the details must be present and plausible, and being as O'Brien was a veteran, it is safe to assume that they are, in fact, realistic. However, his insight leads to an intense examination of the life and mindset of a soldier. The soldiers in the story talk like soldiers, but they just seem like real people with a horrible burden thrust upon their shoulders. Also, O'Brien's writing is delightful. Speaking from a purely syntactical standpoint, the way he crafts his sentences is a pleasure to read, even if it describes something horrible in Paul's life.
Although it is not strictly a war novel, the essence of the war is conveyed throughout. Required reading for anyone wanting to understand the war, or see the perfection of the craft of writing.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A war story women can read
This is a different kind of war story, one that women can read without being grossed out by all the guy stuff. Read more
Published on Jan. 9 2004 by Peggy Vincent
2.0 out of 5 stars Going After Cacciato
This was a boring book to read. It was confusing by flipping between story lines. By the end of the book I just wanted to get it over with. Read more
Published on Oct. 23 2003
3.0 out of 5 stars I didn't like parts of it, pretty much.
School decided to suggest this book. It was the ONLY war novel on a list of like 30, mabye 20 books. So I decided to get it. Read more
Published on Sept. 10 2003 by mdizzog
2.0 out of 5 stars Just didn't get it...
I had never read anything by Tim O'Brien before "Going After Cacciato", and I had high hopes for this novel ... Unfortunately, I was very disappointed. Read more
Published on April 11 2003 by Kristen Mitchell
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read!
This book was very typical Tim O Brien and I thoroughly enjoyed the action as well as the emotional ordeals that the author puts the characters through. Read more
Published on Jan. 21 2003 by ironcitizen
5.0 out of 5 stars War and Imagination
The main character, Paul Berlin, was a regular kid that was floating through life without clear purpose. Read more
Published on Jan. 4 2003 by Stephen J. Wasser
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting characters and idea but storyline is just ok
This is a decent Vietnam story. If you want a gory book like the movies make it this is not for you, however- if you want a book that has an original plot and good characters, read... Read more
Published on Nov. 19 2002 by M. Loring
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing
Further example of the mastery with which O'Brien writes every one of his novels. The words are so beautiful that you forget you're reading about Vietnam. Read more
Published on Aug. 1 2002 by ChiefSanch
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as "Things They Carried"
If you read "Going After Cacciato" after reading Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried," prepare for a minor disappointment. Read more
Published on July 13 2002 by "mr_arch_stanton"
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