My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A well-told little-known story about the Vietnam War that people should know.
I’m a newbie to war details, so I had to learn some terminology (e.g. “Bobby was at point” means that Bobby was the guide, marching at the front of the patrol) and read up a little on how the US military is organized (e.g. a battalion is bigger than a company). But Mr. West gave just the right amount of background where necessary, so I felt neither completely lost nor overburdened with dry facts and figures. After the first two chapters, it was smooth reading.
What a read it was. The author delivered on content, structure and prose excellently. Since he was there and he knew most of the soldiers and villagers personally, I had full faith in the credibility of his stories. He wove the anecdotes together masterfully and interspersed them with just the right amount of political, economic and social context.
Because of this flow, the author showed me how and why a series of events led to culminations and reprisals. He made me understand why leaders – on both sides – made certain decisions. He showed rather than told me how both the Vietnamese village fighters and the Marines developed personally and as a team. I came away with a sense of what it was like to fight alongside and amidst scared villagers, knowing that the enemy could appear anywhere.
But it was the “how” of the author’s telling that brings out my fifth star. Mr. West wrote honestly and simply. He ended every chapter powerfully, circling the square at the end of each section. His writing made me see (or not see) what the soldiers saw, hear what they heard, smell the food cooking in the village, and feel mosquito-bitten legs “slurping” through mud as if they were my own. I felt like I was there.
The exposition in the first chapter dragged a little bit, but I quickly got into it after that. Also, the writing in the additional chapters at the end wasn’t quite of the same calibre as the main story, but it was great to know what happened to the village afterwards. But none of these rough edges takes my fifth star away.
If you’re going to read about the Vietnam War, include this book on your list.