The main plot of hipster
novelist Tom Robbins' Villa Incognito (Bantam, 241
pp., $24.95) involves four USAF fly boys shot down in their
B-52 over Laos who decide to go native, stay in the jungle,
and not be repatriated. Since this is Tom (Even Cowgirls
Get the Blues, Another Roadside Attraction) Robbins, one
of the main characters is a badger-like creature who has the
power to metamorphose into a human being - a human being
with a huge appetite for booze and sex.
Robbins concocts a strange tale peppered with sometimes
funny epigrammatic bon mots, raunchy sexual escapades, and
good-hearted, heroic, off-beat characters fighting against
the establishment. The meandering story, though, bogs down
too often amid too much clumsy exposition and too many
surreal moments, and is a less-than-satisfying attraction.
John Burdett's meaty Bangkok 8 (Knopf, 318 pp., $24),
on the other hand, is a cleverly plotted detective thriller containing a well-drawn, completely believable main
character, a half-Thai, half-American Bangkok cop who solves
a convoluted murder while he doles out lessons in Thai
Buddhist culture and social mores.
Our hero, the son of an unidentified American GI on R&R from
the Vietnam War and a Thai prostitute, does a smashing job
with both tasks. He painstakingly unravels a strange mystery
and entertainingly enlightens the western reader about a
very different culture and society. There's a Vietnam War
connection, too, dealing with the not-so-secret war in Laos.
Saying any more about that, though, would give away too much
of Burdett's intriguing, twisting plot.
FICTION IN BRIEF
The hero of Joel Rosenberg's Home Front (Forge, 300
pp., $23.95) is a cynical Vietnam veteran scratching out a
boring living as a grumpy bachelor copy editor in a small
town in North Dakota. Things heat up in the middle of a
frozen Great Plains winter when the daughter of one of his
Nam buddies, an African-American teenager from the big city
(Minneapolis), reports that her father has been killed and
her life is in danger. Two other war buddies come into the
picture as our dyspeptic hero sets out to make things right
for the young woman in this readable almost thriller.
The Vietnam War looms menacingly over the plot of The
Patience of Rivers (Norton, 351 pp., $24.95), which
takes place in the summer of 1969 and centers on a high
school graduate's rites of passage in the girlfriend and
family arenas. This well-constructed novel is set in upstate
New York near Woodstock before, during, and after the famed
rock festival. It features realistic letters home from
Vietnam by the main character's good buddy.
Amy Heller's Willem's Field (Free Press, 400 pp.,
$24) is set in rural Mississippi in the seventies. It's the
story of the 70-year-old title character going home to his
roots. One of the supporting characters is Bruno, a
physically and psychologically damaged Vietnam veteran.
Heller, an accomplished novelist, portrays this man
realistically and gives him something heroic to do.
Sid Gustafson's taut first novel, Prisoners of Flight
(Permanent, 176 pp., $18, paper), deals with two USAF
Academy Vietnam veterans and their wilderness adventure in
Glacier National Park in Montana. They are stranded there
with two young women, and all four are forced to deal with
their emotional problems during the long, hard winter.
Gustafson is a Montana veterinarian.
Cameron Michaels' Dust of Life (Bellweather, 340 pp.,
$14, paper) is a fast-moving, well-told story that begins in
Vietnam during the war and runs through three additional
decades. At its heart are an Army officer and the Amerasian
Vietnamese girl he brings home from the war to Tennessee.
Michaels, who appears to be 30-something, evokes wartime
Vietnam quite well.
NONFICTION IN BRIEF
The Atlas of American Military History (Oxford
University Press, 248 pp., $50), edited by James C.
Bradford, contains concise, well-written, objective
summaries, accompanied by excellent maps and other graphics,
of America's wars from the colonial period to the post-Cold
War era. The chapter on the Vietnam War, by independent
scholar James Warren, is an excellent capsule history of the
war. It deals with the war's political issues, while
focusing on battles and operations, including Operation
Starlite, Rolling Thunder, the Battle of the Ia Drang
Valley, Dak To, the Tet Offensive, Khe Sanh, the Cambodian
Incursion, and Operations Lom Son and Linebackers I and II.
Healing Richard Nixon: A Doctor's Memoir (University
Press of Kentucky, 248 pp., $27.50) is an unabashed defense
of the former President written by the late John C. Lungren,
a close Nixon friend who was his personal physician, and
John C. Lungren, Jr. The Lungrens staunchly defend the only
U.S. president to resign his office. That includes his
prosecution of the Vietnam War. The authors agree with
Nixon's contention that the war ended less than honorably
through no fault of his own, but due in large part to the
all-but-subversive efforts of the American news media and
the antiwar movement.
Former Nixon staffers by the score and many other Nixon
watchers have their say in the newly revised edition
of The Nixon Presidency: An Oral History of an Era (Brassey's,
587 pp., $27, paper) put together by Deborah Hart Strober
and Gerald S. Strober. The who's who of one-time Nixon
intimates who speak out here on the Vietnam War and other
subjects includes Charles Colson, John Dean, John Ehrlichman,
Gerald Ford, H.R. Haldeman, Jeb Magruder, and George Shultz.
The Strobers' newly revised edition of The Kennedy
Presidency: An Oral History of the Era (Brassey's, 554
pp., $27, paper) contains a good deal more on Vietnam War
policy-making, including sections on the Diem coup, Henry
Cabot Lodge's appointment as ambassador to South Vietnam,
and counterinsurgency. Among the testifiers: antiwar
activist William Sloan Coffin, Jr., former South Vietnamese
ambassador to the United States Bui Diem, William Colby,
George McGovern, Marine Corps Gen. Victor Krulak, John
Kenneth Galbraith, Dean Rusk, and George Ball.
Walt Whitman Rostow, the trusted Kennedy and Johnson
top-level adviser who died in February, was an unrepentant
Vietnam War hawk till the end. The chapter on the war in his
last book, Concept and Controversy: Sixty Years of Taking
Ideas to Market (University of Texas, 484 pp., $60)
bears that out. Rostow offers up what he calls ``a brief
analysis of the [war's] central issues." He concludes that
the United States was "not involved in a pointless war.''
Quoting Gen. William Westmoreland, Rostow says that American
participation in the war allowed ``a free Asia [to] survive
and grow,'' and this tipped ``the balance of power'' in Asia
in our favor.
In Diem's Final Failure: Prelude to America's War in
Vietnam (University Press of Kansas, 312 pp., $34.95)
historian Philip E. Catton presents a revised ``image'' of
South Vietnamese Premiere Ngo Dinh Diem. He was not ``the
backward-looking mandarin who appears in the pages of most
Western accounts of the war,'' Catton says; rather, Diem was
a devoted anticommunist and nation builder who was
``probably no worse than'' other leaders in Southeast Asia
in terms of his totalitarian tendencies. In doing so, Catton
minimizes Diem's and his brother Nhu's ``political
failings,'' which included rampant corruption and ruthless
repression of political dissent.
MEMOIRS IN BRIEF
Ed Emanuel's Soul Patrol (Ballantine, 285 pp., $6.99,
paper) is a well-told memoir of the author's 1968-69 Vietnam
tour with Team 2/6 of Company F of the 51st Infantry, an
elite LRRP Airborne unit that was reactivated for the
Vietnam War. Emanuel was part of a six-man team of
African-American soldiers, which gave rise to its nickname
and the book's title.
The subtitle of Carl S. Adams' memoir, Remember the
Alamo: A Sentry Dog Handler's View of Vietnam from the
Perimeter of Phan Rang Air Base (Lost Coast, 261 pp.,
$24.95) just about tells it all. Adams presents a detailed,
well-written account of his March 1967 to October 1968 tour
as a USAF sentry dog handler at Phan Rang, 35 miles south of
Cam Ranh Bay.
Ron Steinman's Inside Television's First War: A Saigon
Journal (University of Missouri Press, 262 pp., $29.95)
is the author's memoir of his April 1966 to July 1968 stint
as the head of NBC's Saigon bureau. Steinman provides much
inside-baseball material on how he ran his TV operation. He
spends a good deal of time on NBC's extensive coverage of
Tet '68 and pronounces his work a success. ``We had a duty,
an obligation, to make our stories as accurate and realistic
as possible,'' Steinman says, ``and that, I believe, we
Gregory A. Helle calls his war and postwar memoir, A Walk
in Hell: The Other Side of War (Xlibris, 364 pp.,
$32.99, hardcover; $22.99, paper), ``the ramblings of a
strange mind.'' It is made up of poetry and short essays
chronicling his tour in Vietnam and his battle with PTSD.
Solitary Survivor: The First American POW in Southeast Asia,
Lawrence R. ``Bob'' Bailey, Jr.'s memoir of his time held
prisoner by the Pathet Lao in 1961-62, written with Ron Marz,
is now out in paper (Brassey's, 214 pp., $16.95).
Andy O'Meara, Jr.'s Only the Dead Came Home
(Elderberry, 182 pp., $19.95, paper) deals primarily with
the author's traumatic experiences in the Vietnam War where
he served as an adviser with the ARVN's 1st Cavalry Regiment
and with the Army's 11th Cavalry. Those experiences led to a
case of PTSD, which O'Meara explains in detail.
Michael J. Walsh's SEAL!, first published in
1994, is back in print (Pocket, 292 pp., $6.99, paper).
Walsh did five Vietnam SEAL tours, including a stint as an
Operation Phoenix operative. Military historian Kevin
Dockery's Navy SEALS: A History, Part III, Post-Vietnam
to the Present (Berkley, 455 pp., $22.95) is an oral
history with lots of narrative telling the SEALS story since
1975. It's based on interviews by Bud Brutsman.
Karen W. Waggoner's On My Honor: A Navy Wife's Vietnam
War (PublishAmerica, 368 pp., $24.95, paper) is a
well-constructed, dialogue-heavy account of the author's
life from 1968-72 when her husband served as a Navy Chief
with Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron One going back and
forth between Japan, where the family lived, and Vietnam.
Waggoner tells the story using the names Pat and Ben Morgan
as the wife and husband.
Kathie Costos' For the Love of Jack: His War, My Battle
(Xlibris, 143 pp., paper) is the well-told, extremely
personal story of her husband's case of PTSD, stemming from
his experiences as a teen-aged 101st Airborne trooper in
Vietnam in 1969-70. A portion of the book's proceeds will be
donated to the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans in
Josephine Stockton, born Phin Hang in Saigon, escaped from
South Vietnam on the last C-130 out of Tan Son Nhut on April
28, 1975. She tells that dramatic story in A Long Way
From Saigon: Phin's Memoirs: From Bar Girl to Dignity
(Truman, 312 pp., $19.95, paper). Stockton also reveals
details of her rough life growing up, her marriage to Dan
Stockton, and her adjustments to life in the United States.
Richard L. Snider's Delta Six: Soldier, Surgeon
(Heritage, 239 pp., $23, paper) is the readable story of the
author's 1968-69 as a surgeon with the 25th Infantry
Division in Cu Chi, Tay Ninh, and Saigon. Snider was drafted
into the Army during his first year of surgical training at
the Yale University Graduate School of Medicine.
Robert G. Certain's Unchained Eagle: From Prisoner of War
to Prisoner of Christ (ETC, 320 pp., $29.95) is an
unvarnished account of his imprisonment in the Hanoi Hilton
from December 1972 to March 1973 after he was shot down over
North Vietnam in his B-52. It also deals with his life
afterwards as a parish priest.
Roger W. Williams'
Vietnam: Sometimes It Was Funny: Personal Observations of
the War (Scott Company, 200 pp., paper) contains 43
breezily written, off-beat tales about his 1967-68 Army tour
in Vietnam operating a tank. For more info, e-mail