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Book Review – In Pharaoh’s Army by Tobias Wolff

Synopsis:  In This Boy’s Life Tobias Wolf created an unforgettable memoir of an American childhood. Now he gives us a precisely and sometimes pitilessly remembered account of his young manhood – a young manhood that become entangled in the tragic adventure that was Vietnam. Mordantly funny, searingly honest, In Pharoah’s Army is a war memoir in the tradition of George Orwell and Michael Herr.

First Line:  “Some peasants were blocking the road up ahead.:

Random Quote:  “Only when we finally took the town back, when the last sniper had been blasted off his rooftop, did I see what we had done, we and the VC together.  The place as a wreck, still smoldering two weeks later, still reeking sweetly of corpses.”

Review:  I loved This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff so reading his memoir of his time in Vietnam was a no-brainer.  It is well-written and tells of Vietnam in a succinct almost detached fashion that maximizes the available horror.  In particular, Wolff’s description of the impact of the Tet Offensive will haunt me to my grave in the way that Michael Herr’s description of Hue has.

ASVG-S-1031-65/AGA68 RVN Saigon Viet Cong dead...Viet Cong dead – Image via Wikipedia

Wolff is less the soldier and more the writer throughout the book and you wonder how he got himself there.  In many ways the book is about the search for self and for manhood and all the wrong places those searches can take you.  Interspersed are stories of his family, his parolee father and his brother, academician and writer, Gregory Wolff.  Wolff has a talent for relating the small detail that sets off a string of details that become a story before you know it’s happened.  Worth reading both for a deeper understanding of Vietnam and for a great example of good memoir writing.

Reading Challenges:  Truth is Stranger than Fiction Reading Challenge, Book Awards Reading Challenge, 2010 100+ Reading Challenge, 2010 Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge, 2010 War Through the Generation Challenge:  Vietnam

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