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Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 336 pgs
On Amazon and on Kobo

Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien, which was the final read-a-long for the 2014 War Through the Generations challenge, is the story of soldiers in Vietnam as they struggle with courage and honor and fate.  Paul Berlin appears to break from reality and is the daydreamer of the group, but he latches onto the dream of Cacciato, who claims you can walk out of the Vietnam War, across Asia and into Europe, all the way to Paris.  In a series of chapters that alternate from reality to fantasy and back again, O’Brien examines what it means to be a soldier in war, struggling to process all the dangers and lulls in danger around them.  Berlin is an observer, but he is quaking in his boots when he arrives.  However, he has a plan, stay on the outside of everything, don’t get attached, and he’ll make it through.

“They were all among the dead.  The rain fed fungus that grew in the men’s boots and socks, and their socks rotted, and their feet turned white and soft so that the skin could be scraped off with a fingernail, and Stink Harris woke up screaming one night with a leech on his tongue.  When it was not raining, a low mist moved across the paddies, blending the elements into a single gray element, and the war was cold and pasty and rotten.”  (page 1)

As O’Brien blends reality and fantasy, readers will want to believe in the fantasies to cling to the adventure story, which also perilous seems less dire than trudging through rice paddies and jungles in search of the enemy.  There is that pervasive feeling throughout the book of being caught — a hopelessness of the situation and a desire to escape it by any means necessary.  When the only purpose to war is the winning of it, morale gets bogged down in the failures and the confusion, at least this is the case for Berlin and his squad members.

Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien is O’Brien at his best, using magical realism to bring forth the realities of the war for soldiers and their internal struggles.  A complex novel with a great deal for book clubs to discuss about duty, honor, courage, and self-preservation.  O’Brien is considered one of the best novelists writing about the Vietnam War and this book proves his skill and compassion.

About the Author:

Tim O’Brien was born in 1946 in Austin, Minnesota, and spent most of his youth in the small town of Worthington, Minnesota. He graduated summa cum laude from Macalester College in 1968. From February 1969 to March 1970 he served as infantryman with the U.S. Army in Vietnam, after which he pursued graduate studies in government at Harvard University. He worked as a national affairs reporter for The Washington Post from 1973 to 1974.

34th book (Vietnam War) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

  • Anna (Diary of an Eccentric)

    I was my first war novel with magical realism, and I was blown away. I generally don’t like fantasy, but it really worked here.

  • bermudaonion(Kathy)

    I’d be quaking in my books too. This sounds outstanding!

  • His books are so intense! And I agree – great for book clubs. I haven’t read this one (yet) but I will find the strength to get to it some day!

    • It was such a good read and so much to discuss. I love his books. I may re-read his If I Die in a Combat Zone next year.