*** About the Book ***
This book is part novel, part memoir, part short story collection in which the narrator (or is it the author?) shares about his experiences in Vietnam.
*** Why I Listened To It ***
This book is on so many “must read” lists yet I’d never even heard of it until recently. I’m reading it for the War Through the Generations: Vietnam challenge, the 1% Well Read challenge, and it will also count for the Audiobook challenge.
In addition, Sophisticated Dorkiness is hosting a read-a-long of the book this month and I’m participating in that as well.
*** My Thoughts ***
Hmm … well … what ARE my thoughts on this book? I can’t seem to pin them down. In a way I hated it. In another way I really appreciated what the author was doing. At times I wanted to cover my ears and not hear the rest of the story. At other times I wanted to smack a character for his stupidity or carelessness or whatever. Parts of it seemed very true while other parts didn’t fit my idea of reality.
The book begins with descriptions of the items the soldiers carried – weapons, food, supplies, etc. – and the actual weight of each item. Then the narrator added the intangibles – guilt, fear, memories – to the list. This was a powerful chapter and really brought me into the story.
And then … well, is it strange that the stories of dead comrades and enemy soldiers did very little to me (even though they were very sad) yet the story of out-and-out cruelty to an animal broke my heart? I guess I assume that there will be death in a war and I resign myself to that necessity but I can’t resign myself to the need for cruelty, even though it helped the soldiers become calloused enough to take a human life.
One issue I had came after I finished the book. When I was perusing the read-a-long discussion questions I noticed this one: “The narrator of The Things They Carried goes by the same name as the author, but the title page notes that this is a “work of fiction.” How did this launch your reading of the book?” Say WHAT?! The audio version of the book did NOT include this information. While I was listening I assumed it was a somewhat embellished version of the author’s own experiences. To find out that I was wrong has really soured me on this book.
At the same time, there is one chapter that deals with the idea of truth in a story. The narrator makes the point that sometimes the real truth of a situation isn’t in the factual details but rather in the story that you create about it. This chapter (it’s the one where he repeatedly describes the body of the VietCong soldier he just killed) really resonated with me. I found the repetition very powerful. And yet, despite agreeing with his thoughts about truth, I find myself angry that I can’t tell which parts of the book are “fact” and which are “stories of truth” …
Part of the issue for me with books like this is that I hope to find something of my dad’s Vietnam experience in there but I always come away disappointed. My dad enlisted in the Army by choice – he wasn’t drafted. He was proud to serve, just as his father had. He didn’t come out of the war with PTSD (at least, not from anything he or my mom ever said) or having nightmares or harboring lots of regrets (although I’m sure he has some). He was a Green Beret* and he spent most of his time living in the villages with the local people and a few other soldiers. My husband once asked him about what he’d done in Vietnam. His response was along these lines: Yes, I killed some people. But I don’t have any trouble sleeping at night. If I told them not to move and they moved, then I felt no guilt about it. So far I have yet to come across a book that reflects my dad’s experience in any way, and that is disappointing to me.
*Reading the part of the book about the “Greenies” was almost creepy for me, knowing that my dad was one of them …
*** Your Thoughts ***
Have you read this book? What did you think of it? What are your thoughts on “facts” versus “truth”?
Also, can you recommend a Vietnam-era book that might reflect my dad’s experiences?