Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Things They Carried

While I'm a couple days late, I'd like to make mention of a book in honor of Veteran's Day. I read Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried in 11th grade English, I believe. If you're unfamiliar with O'Brien, many of his books - novels, memoir, etc. - are about the Vietnam War. The Things They Carried is a compilation - memoir with bits of fiction, in my opinion, though it says "novel" on the cover - of short stories about Vietnam. However, the stories follow the same men of Alpha Company, so the book feels very connected throughout. Some stories are told in present-day Vietnam, while some are flashbacks from 20 years later.

O'Brien's storytelling is mesmerizing. The short story that stuck with me the most, and that I still think of to this day, is "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong." Located in a "safe" place in Vietnam, one medic decides to bring his girl over from the States to stay awhile. Picture this prim and proper teacher in her sweater set arriving in Vietnam. She takes to the daily routine, joining in the fray and even becoming friendly with the neighboring Green Berets. Crazy things unravel - she chops off her hair, goes on secret missions, kills animals - and let's just say she's never the same again.

The other stories tell about the pressures, boredom, anger and angst that these soldiers faced during the war. While these stories are fictionalized, I'm sure their feelings and experiences are wrapped in truth. I think it would be really hard to make that stuff up completely.

What books would you recommend for Veteran's Day?


willikat said...

oh my god. . . i don't want to give anything away, but that last thing she does. . .i swear i had bad dreams about it. i loved that book. also dispatches by michael herr, or the cat from hue (i can't think of the author). . . all quiet on the western front. . . there's quite a few good ones, although mostly they just make me feel sick and sad and reiterate that i hate war.

A. said...

I know exactly what you're talking about! That's totally why that story has stuck in mind for so many years.