"A few years ago," Stewart O'Nan, editor of The Vietnam Reader
, writes in his introduction, "when I began teaching the American literature of the Vietnam War, I tried to find an anthology my students could use.... But as I searched through libraries and catalogues, new- and used-book shops, I discovered there wasn't one." So O'Nan set out to create one himself. What began as course material has grown into a remarkable collection of writing that will appeal to a broad audience of readers interested in the Vietnam experience. O'Nan includes a little bit of everything--fiction and nonfiction from acclaimed writers such as Tim O'Brien, Louise Erdrich, Michael Herr, and David Halberstam; poetry and drama by Michael Casey and David Rabe; even songs such as Barry Sadler's "The Ballad of the Green Berets" and Credence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son." There are also essays on the major Vietnam films, from The Deer Hunter
to Full Metal Jacket
, and a smattering of famous photographs from the war.
What makes this collection extraordinary is not just the quality of the writing it contains but also the breadth of attitudes O'Nan represents. For instance, he juxtaposes an excerpt from Ron Kovic's antiwar memoir, Born of the Fourth of July with James Webb's gung-ho paean to fighting the good fight in Fields of Fire. Chapters of Tim O'Brien's hallucinatory fiction Going After Cacciato resonate with excerpts from his earlier memoir If I D ie in a Combat Zone as well the journalism of Michael Herr (Dispatches) and Philip Caputo (A Rumor of War). Creating sections such as "Early Work," "The Oral History Boom," "Memoirs," "Homecoming," and more, O'Nan seeks to convey as much of the war experience from as many different perspectives as possible. Anyone interested in history and in fine writing will find The Vietnam Reader worthy reading. --Alix Wilber
From Publishers Weekly
It is probably not possible to boil down the Vietnam conflict into a pocket-size distillation, but the editors of this thorough and well-chosen collection of reporting and writing have made a worthy attempt. From a vivid Time magazine account of the deaths of several U.S. advisersAwhich packs a wallop in a mere three paragraphsAon through exemplary work by David Halberstam, Peter Arnett and selections from the journals of Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer and Michael Herr, these two volumes attempt to let every side have its point of view. Soldiers, commanders, scribes and protesters all give their own versions of the hellish fighting and its ramifications. The collection also sheds light on how much the newsgathering business has changed since that time. The accounts hereAexcept perhaps for those rooted in the burgeoning "new journalism"Aare based more in fact than in spin, making one wonder how today's reporters would chronicle those bygone events. Readers may gloss over some of the analysis and editorializing, much of which is rooted in its own time. But when Halberstam profiles John Paul Vann, a high-ranking officer who saw that the U.S. effort in Vietnam was doomed; when U.S. News & World Report offers in-the-thick-of-it commentary from pilot "Jerry" Shenk; and when Tom Wolfe chronicles Ken Kesey's appearance at Berkeley in his own inimitable fashion, then suddenly it's "Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam, we've all been there," as Herr writes. This book will help readers understand better what it was like to live through that tumultuous period of American history. Maps, 32-page photo insert. BOMC main selection. (Oct.) FYI: The Vietnam Reader, edited by Stewart O'Nan and also out in October, from Holt, is a wide-ranging anthology of fiction and nonfiction, songs, photography and poetry about the war, little of which overlaps with the above two volumes. ($15.95 paper 800p ISBN 0-385-49118-2).
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