A Rumor of War: The Classic Vietnam Memoir (40th Anniversary Edition)

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Henry Holt and Company, May 13, 2014 - History - 384 pages

The 40th anniversary edition of the classic Vietnam memoir—featured in the PBS documentary series The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick—with a new foreword by Kevin Powers

In March of 1965, Lieutenant Philip J. Caputo landed at Danang with the first ground combat unit deployed to Vietnam. Sixteen months later, having served on the line in one of modern history’s ugliest wars, he returned home—physically whole but emotionally wasted, his youthful idealism forever gone.

A Rumor of War is far more than one soldier’s story. Upon its publication in 1977, it shattered America’s indifference to the fate of the men sent to fight in the jungles of Vietnam. In the years since then, it has become not only a basic text on the Vietnam War but also a renowned classic in the literature of wars throughout history and, as the author writes, of "the things men do in war and the things war does to them."

"Heartbreaking, terrifying, and enraging. It belongs to the literature of men at war." —Los Angeles Times Book Review

 

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I borrowed this book from a guy I met at the shooting range, a former marine who has hundreds and hundreds of war novels although he, like myself, never went to war. It is the allure of that horrible unknown that draws me, and apparently, others, to hear about it from primary sources. Philip Caputo went to Vietnam, and returned to write this novel about it. Like many others in 1967, Caputo is a college student who gets caught up in the Vietnam conflict. I felt tht it was rather a low key, although a first person narrative, of his experiences. Caputo becomes a lieutenant who commands a platoon who trudge through the jungle trails, dodge land mines, and slowly ameliorate both in numbers and in sanity because of high temperature, humidly, and NVA snipers. Caputo writes in his prologue that what distinguishes the Vietnam War is its absolute savagery. Unlike previous wars including WWII, WWI, and even Korea, soldiers fought with a sense of honor in defense of the motherland. Caputo’s war experiences reveal a different kind of mindset for American combat soldiers in Vietnam: no holds barred; unsupported from home; disconnected from “the world.” There is a sense of what happens to the British boys who revert to mayhem and massacre in the novel Lord of the Flies. Even worse in Vietnam, the savagery goes off the scale by virtue of the numbers of combatants, lack of moral and support, and OIC’s who sanctions butchery in their quest for numbers: How many VC did you kill today?
A Rumor or War is not the best war story I have read because its author is not a professional writer. Instead, Rumor is powerful by virtue of the fact that its author’s experiences were so physically and psychologically disturbing that he felt compelled to join the voices who also speak about the horrors they experienced there. Regardless of the war, it is a commonality such authors share: the need to reveal, to purge, and through sharing, perhaps lighten their mutually-felt misery gained in the horrors of battle. ***+ = Three and One half stars.
 

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Copyright

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About the author (2014)

PHILIP CAPUTO is an award-winning journalist—the cowinner of a Pulitzer Prize—and the author of many works of fiction and nonfiction, including A Rumor of War, one of the most highly praised books of the twentieth century, and the novel Some Rise by Sin. He and his wife, Leslie Ware, divide their time between Norwalk, Connecticut, and Patagonia, Arizona.

Bibliographic information