Vietnam War Reading Challenge Givaways Ready!

The Vietnam War Reading Challenge 2010 has ended, but the fun hasn’t.

Participants who signed up for the challenge can now enter the giveaways to win . . . what else . . . BOOKS!

Head on over and check out the following challenges and enter which ones you qualify for based upon your reading achievements.

Giveaway posts are as follows:



Stayed on the Helicopter

Good Luck everyone!

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes is bound to be an instant classic among Vietnam War literature.  Drawing from his experiences as a Marine Lieutenant, much like many of the other authors’ novels, Marlantes’s perspective is not only of Marines on the ground in the depths of the jungle, but of a lieutenant who experienced first hand the political battles and horrifying decisions made by other officers and politicians.  Weaving in political dilemmas and screw-ups into the narrative can be burdensome for many writers — dragging down the plot and characterization — but this is not the case with Marlantes’ Matterhorn.

Mellas, the main protagonist, enters Vietnam as a lieutenant with a variety of ambitions for advancement and medals.  He’s been to Ivy League schools, he’s had a charmed life compared to the others in the bush, but he likes to feel like one of the ordinary guys in the bush, though at the same time, he wants to fit in with the officers and to prove his worth.  He’s a dichotomy in himself, displaying openly the struggle between the grunts and the officers within one man.

“Mellas was amazed and ashamed.  He realized part of him would wish anything, and maybe even do anything, if it meant getting ahead or saving his own skin.  He fought that part down.”  (page 7)

Mellas is thrown into Bravo Company and told to take hold of Matterhorn, only to abandon it when the political forces deem Cam Lo a bigger priority.  But by not having the support necessary from the base camps, his company runs out of water and other supplies, forced to hump through the jungle dehydrated and shot up.  There is more than one instance in which this company is thrown into battle with impossible odds, which will remind many readers of the movies that glorify the marines and their victories.  However, this novel shows readers the true nature of those “hollow” victories.  While these men remain dedicated to their missions and each other, without proper strategy and backing their victories become senseless in the eyes of loss and terror.  Even victories become jokes once the reports are made to the command posts and the reports of confirmed and probable dead are doctored — something that was common during the war.

“The records had to show two dead NVA.  So they did.  But at regiment it looked odd — two kills with no probables.  So a probable got added.  It was a conservative estimate.  It only made sense that if you killed two, with the way the NVA pulled out bodies, you had to have some probables.  It made the same sense to the commander of the artillery battalion:  four confirmed, two probables, which is what the staff would report to Colonel Mulvaney, the commanding officer of Twenty-Fourth Marines, at the regiment briefing.”  (page 91-2)

Mellas finds his place within the company and even becomes respected, but his continued ambition clouds much of his judgment and often forces him into situations that are more dangerous than they need to be.  Beyond Mellas, the company is hampered by continued racial tensions between the “brothers” and their white counterparts, with some elements on both sides more violent and outspoken than others.  Others are aware of the increased tension and racial hatred, but attempt to brush it under the rug or ignore it.  The tension builds within the “brothers” camp, pitting China against Henry, in such a way that it can only be released in one way.

“Jackson folded his arms. ‘You think someone’s going to understand how you feel about being in the bush? I mean even if they’re like you in every way, you really think they’re going to understand what it’s like out here? Really understand?’

‘Probably not.’

‘Well, it’s like that being black. Unless you’ve been there, ain’t no way.'” (page 429)

As for the officers back at the base camp, readers will find in Lieutenant Colonel Simpson a possible mirror image for Mellas, depending on how well he reacts to combat situations and political decisions beyond his control.  Simpson is often drunk, quick to anger, and makes rash decisions just with a few promptings from peers and underlings.

There are so many layers to Matterhorn, it is impossible to discuss them all in a review.  Mellas is a troubled hero, but in a way the hero is not any individual Marine, but the jungle that surrounds them.  It beats them down; it disguises the enemy; and it leaves them begging for mercy, but it also can provide them shelter; offer them food; and improve their chances of success.  Psychological effects of war, loss, and camaraderie in highly intense situations can be devastating and enlightening.  One of the best books I’ve read all year and easily one of the best books of the last decade.  Readers interested in drama, tension, war-related literature, and human interactions and societal contexts will be as captivated by Matterhorn as any other book that has come onto the shelves.

This is my 63rd book for this challenge.

This is my 15th book for this challenge.

Week #4 Matterhorn Discussion

Today is week 4 of the Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes read-a-long that Anna and I started for the Vietnam War Reading Challenge‘s last hurrah!

Every Friday throughout December, Anna and I have discussed the chapters we’ve read of Matterhorn.

Today’s discussion on War Through the Generations will be about the final Chapters 16-23!

If you’d like to join us, please do so.  We’d love to hear your thoughts on the book.  Even if you join us later on in the month, we won’t mind.  We love book discussions.

Weigh in with your final thoughts on Matterhorn!

***Stay tuned for my final review of 2010 — Matterhorn.***

The Cool Woman by John Aubrey Anderson

The Cool Woman by John Aubrey Anderson begins in 1970 when Lieutenant Bill Mann enters pilot training and begins to live his dream of becoming a fighter pilot.  Mann is a black man entering the military at a time when bigotry and ambition made a dangerous cocktail for his race.  He’s determined to make his mark and do his father proud, and in the process meets the love of his life, Pip.

“In the world of aviation, conventional wisdom says:  To keep an aircraft in the air, a pilot will always need at least one of three ingredients:  airspeed, altitude, or ideas. If any one or two of those ingredients is absent or in short supply, the pilot must have a proportionate abundance of whatever remains.” (page 3)

Throughout the novel, Anderson weaves in Mann’s background and hidden secrets, but he also unveils how the path to God and faith is wrought with many obstacles and trials.  Christian faith plays a large role in this novel, as it should given the combat situations and uncertainty in the lives of the families tied to Bill Mann and his friend Rusty Mattingly and every other combat pilot they encounter along the way.

The three ingredients necessary for aviation are like those necessary for faith, but readers will also note that these ingredients can be boiled down to one word — hope.  Hope is the main message of the novel despite the bullets and bigotry flying through its pages.  Anderson’s use of sparse language to tell his story makes the plight of Mann and his friends in the jungles of Vietnam immediate and harrowing at every turn, but it also helps illuminate the enduring camaraderie and bonds that were created between soldiers, nurses, administrators, and many others.

“Apparently, the sound told the gunners exactly where they were; the anti-aircraft fire intensified and became a steel curtain woven of angry red and white arcs.  Driver’s grip tested the stress tolerance of the handholds.  Within seconds the airplane was standing on its nose — the engine was threatening to come off the mounts; swarms of tracers flashed by on all sides, barely missing them.  Driver was as far down in his seat as he could get, mesmerized by one particular string of red balls that seemed frozen in space just outside the canopy.”  (page 107)

Overall, The Cool Woman is a captivating novel about Air Force pilots and the struggles they faced.  It also explores the racism in the military, the politics that gets things accomplished or screws things up, and the faith it takes to not only do what needs to be done, but get through the roughest patches.  Anderson’s cool woman is not the plane, but the inner self that must be crafted and nurtured in times of combat.

This is my 62nd book for this challenge.

This is my 14th book for this challenge.

Week #3 Matterhorn Discussion

Today is week 3 of the Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes read-a-long that Anna and I started for the Vietnam War Reading Challenge‘s last hurrah!

Every Friday throughout December, Anna and I will be discussing the chapters we’ve read of Matterhorn.

Today’s discussion on War Through the Generations will be about Chapters 11-15!

If you’d like to join us, please do so.  We’d love to hear your thoughts on the book.  Even if you join us later on in the month, we won’t mind.  We love book discussions.

You know you’re curious.  Go on, check it out!

Week #2 Matterhorn Discussion

Today is week 2 of the Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes read-a-long that Anna and I started for the Vietnam War Reading Challenge‘s last hurrah!

Every Friday throughout December, Anna and I will be discussing the chapters we’ve read of Matterhorn.

Today’s discussion on War Through the Generations will be about Chapters 6-10!

If you’d like to join us, please do so.  We’d love to hear your thoughts on the book.  Even if you join us later on in the month, we won’t mind.  We love book discussions.

Go on, check it out; you know you want to!

Check Out the Read-a-Long of Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

Today is the official start of the Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes read-a-long that Anna and I started for the Vietnam War Reading Challenge‘s last hurrah!

Every Friday throughout December, Anna and I will be discussing the chapters we’ve read of Matterhorn.

Today’s discussion on War Through the Generations will be about Chapters 1-5!

If you’d like to join us, please do so.  We’d love to hear your thoughts on the book.  Even if you join us later on in the month, we won’t mind.  We love book discussions.

Go on over and check it out!

Guest Post: John Aubrey Anderson, Author of The Cool Woman

John Aubrey Anderson‘s The Cool Woman is a novel that is on my Vietnam War reading list, and I plan to read and review it here before the end of the year.   Book Reviews by Molly already reviewed the book, so check that out.

In the meantime, I’ve got a treat for you!  I’m going to tantalize you with a portion of the author’s guest post, which you can read in full at War Through the Generations.

Check out an excerpt and then head on over.

As part of a school project, my granddaughter was required to interview a Vietnam War vet . . . she chose me. Her questions served to remind me . . . that I was relaxed about going to Vietnam because that was my job, that I wept when we buried one of my best friends in Arlington National Cemetery, and that my best memory of that part of my life is of returning home to my family.

The reality of the hell of war cannot be captured in the written word — be it fact or fiction. Nonetheless, I chose the chaos of the war in Vietnam as the backdrop for my fourth novel, The Cool Woman, because I wanted my main characters in an environment that would help “refine their thinking.” I tell much of the story from the cockpit — a vantage point familiar to me.

Please read the rest of the guest post at War Through the Generations today!

Also, the new 2011 War Through the Generations Topic is posted!

Sign up for the new 2011 Reading Challenge!

The Fall of Saigon by Michael V. Uschan

Michael V. Uschan‘s The Fall of Saigon provides an observant look at the history of how the Vietnam War begins, unfolds, and ends.  Unlike other books on this topic, Uschan begins with the fall of Saigon or the end of the war with one of the largest helicopter evacuations in history.  Although many would argue this is a civil war between its northern and southern counterparts, this war occurred at a time when democratic governments were wary of the spread of communism.

There is a great mix of photos and text in the book to provide a simplified explanation of the war and all of its moving parts.  It does touch upon the My Lai massacre and the deaths of innocent victims, but without the horrifying images that polarized many of those back home.  To teach students about the war, this is an excellent edition, but for children reading about the war on their own, it may be a bit dry.  However, photos often supplement the text and can provide a visual aid to kids.

Even adults can learn or relearn things about the Vietnam War and what may have happened as a result of the war.  For instance, the passage of the War Powers Act in 1973 required all future presidents to gain approval from Congress each time troops are sent into action overseas.

Overall, The Fall of Saigon is for older children, possibly between the ages of 9 and 12, and provides a great deal of information in just 30 pages, but in some ways the text needs to be supplemented with additional material on the Cold War and other events.

This is my 58th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

This is my 13th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge.

Tipping Point by Fred Marchant

Tipping Point by Fred Marchant is a collection of poetry broken down into five parts and published by Word Works after winning the 1993 Washington Prize.  Readers may wonder what a former Marine Corps Lieutenant and one of the first honorably discharged conscientious objectors would have to say about the Vietnam War, especially having only served two years.  This collection is a journey through the memories of childhood, adulthood, and military service, and beyond.

From Vietnam Era:

“. . . The papers
+++++ you heaved you imagined
grenades, and that the porches they
+++++ landed on the burst into flame,” (page 21)

Hard slaps and punches to his mother’s face from his father, feeling outcast in school being overweight, and a number of other adolescent anxieties scream from the pages.  But the most poignant lines of loss and anguish and even anger occur in his poems of the Vietnam War.  However, many of these poems are about inner turmoil and dealing with that struggle on a daily basis.

From Elephants Walking:

“On the news there was the familiar footage:
+++++ a Phantom run
ending in a hypnotic burst of lit yellow napalm.
+++++ I knew the war
was wrong, but that was why, I claimed, I should go,
+++++ to sing the song
of high lament, to get it into the books.”  (page 28)

From Tipping Point:

“and trousers which were not
+++++ supposed to rip, but breathe,
+++++++++++ and breathe they do — not so much
of death — but rather the long
++++++ living with it, sleeping in it,
+++++++++++ not ever washing your body free of it.”  (page 35-6)

Whether Marchant is discussing family history, struggles with illness, or his service in the Vietnam War, images leap off the page, billowing the smells of sweat into readers noses and making them squirm in discomfort. It is this discomfort the poet wishes for readers to feel as the narrators struggle with their own moral discomfort and struggle to come to terms with their decisions and situations beyond their control. Overall, Tipping Point by Fred Marchant reveals the dilemmas each of us deals with regarding personal, social, and political events, but it also teaches that individuals have a “tipping point” when principles must be take precedence or be set aside.

© Leslie Bowen

About the Author:

Fred Marchant is the author of Tipping Point, which won the Washington Prize in poetry. He is a professor of English and the director of creative writing at Suffolk University in Boston, and he is a teaching affiliate of the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

This is my 14th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

This is my 12th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge.

Guest Post: Richard Vnuk Talks About the Vietnam War

Today at War Through the Generations, Author Richard Vnuk discusses the Vietnam War and his book, Tested in the Fire of Hell, which he wrote after 40 years of silence.

I hope that you will hop on over to check out this author and his book and what inspired him to finally write about a war that he had kept silent about for a very long time.

Also, please remember to vote in the WTTG poll on what war should be covered in 2011.  There are three options: 1 year of American Revolution; 1 year of American Civil War; and 6 months each of the American Revolution and the American Civil War.

The poll will close on Nov. 22, and we will post the results after Thanksgiving.

Also, if anyone has some recommendations for books on either the Civil War and the American Revolution, please feel free to send them to warthroughgenerations AT gmail DOT com

Fatal Light by Richard Currey

Richard Currey‘s Fatal Light is an unusual novel in which an unnamed narrator provides readers with an inside view of what it is like to be a draftee before, during, and after the war.  Beyond the bullets, the Viet Cong, the mines, and the brutality of war, soldiers had to navigate a culture they didn’t understand, malaria, injury, and unexpected relationships.  The prose is sparse and the chapters are small, but each line, each chapter can knock readers over or back into their seats after putting them on the edge.

The unnamed narrator’s family is dispersed between West Virginia, Maryland, and Ohio, and the tranquility of the Ohio River and its surrounding landscape acts as the backdrop for the later contrasts of Vietnam’s jungles and the war.

“The festival queen and her court rode into view on a float garlanded with tissue flowers, gliding across the horizon of Main Street like a mirage, small-town madonnas sliding past waving their downy arms dreamily, their eyes the eyes of soft animals turned heavenward from thrones of blossoms and crepe, their faces all a magnificent promise, the romance at the end of the world passing so slowly in those long moments of perfect quiet, like the air over the river, the light and stillness inside the world at daybreak, like a held breath.”  (page 12)

There is a deep sadness in Currey’s prose as the narrator spirals further into the darkness of the jungle and of his memories as he recovers from injury and malaria.  But beyond the sadness and memory, the soldier lives on in grief, denial, and anger.  His anger rises at the military establishment, but his connection to his grandfather and those war stories still grounds him in reality.

“Mist filtered, smoke and constant drip. In the distance, the hoarse choke of approaching helicopters.

‘Choppers coming,’ I said. ‘We’re on the way.’

‘Gonna bleed the rest of my life,’ he hissed. ‘Gonna be coming right out of my bones all the rest of my life. You hear what I’m saying?’

I looked at him and the sound of the helicopters grew closer. ‘I hear what you’re saying,’ I whispered.” (page 80)

Unlike other war novels, Fatal Light is less graphic in describing wounds, battle, and recovery but the emotional connection between the narrator’s feelings and the readers are intertwined as they are drawn into each immediate, vivid observation.  While the observations are descriptive, they are not journalistic or clinical.  Currey’s prose is captivating, but realistic and gritty.  Overall, Currey’s slim novel is a memorable, twisted tale of a Vietnam soldier.

***If you missed my earlier recap of Currey’s reading in Bethesda, Md., check it out.  I purchased my copy of the book at the reading.***

Photo by Vivian Ronay

About the Author:

Richard Currey was born in West Virginia in 1949, was raised there and in Ohio, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Canada. Drafted in 1968, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was detached to the Marine Corps, trained as a combat medic, and assigned to various infantry and reconnaissance units. He began publishing poetry after his discharge in 1972, and he drew upon his military experiences in Crossing Over: The Vietnam Stories. His first novel, Fatal Light, became an international bestseller published in 11 languages. Fatal Light received the Special Citation of the Hemingway Foundation as well as the Vietnam Veterans of America’s Excellence in the Arts Award. Currey’s second novel, Lost Highway, looks at the impact of the Vietnam War on an American family and was called “a rich, incisive American fable” by the Boston Globe. Currey’s short stories have received O. Henry and Pushcart Prizes and have been widely anthologized. A former military book reviewer for Newsday, he is now a contributing editor for The Veteran. A recipient of National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in both poetry and fiction, Currey has also received the D. H. Lawrence Fellowship in Literature and the State of West Virginia’s Daugherty Award in the Humanities.

This is my 11th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge.

This is my 56th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

I hope you enjoyed this latest Literary Road Trip with Washington, D.C., author Richard Currey.