Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Voice from Vietnam

After reading Tim O’Brien’s “In The Lake Of The Woods” I wasn’t sure I wanted to read another book he had written. I found the ending of the book too disturbing and one I cannot forget. But my daughter told me, more than once, that “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien was her favorite novel. When I purchased the book, the salesclerk at the counter told me it was his favorite book. So I was very curious to see why these twentysomething readers loved this novel.

“The Things They Carried” is a collection of 22 related chapters/stories about a fictionalized Tim O’Brien’s tour of Vietnam. The chapters have reappearing characters who were all part of the unit that Tim O’Brien was assigned to in Vietnam in the late 1960’s, but the names and the exact events have been changed. These stories are Tim O’Brien’s meditations on the war and his memories of what happened there so long ago. The “things they carried” initially refers to the physical things the young soldiers carried; love letters, can openers, pocket knives, dog tags, gum, candy, C rations, water, a bible, photos, anything that meant something to them. But, after the tangible things they carried, Tim O’Brien begins to remember the intangible things his fellow soldiers carried; the fears, the desires, the memories, the dreams. The line between fact and fiction becomes blurred as Tim O’Brien relates the horror of this war in these stories written in an almost poetic prose. You feel like you are there in that god-forsaken country experiencing the living and the death of these soldiers. And although this book is essentially a work of fiction, Tim O’Brien has made it real. And, as hard as it is at times to read, it is a novel that will stay with you for a long time. It has been acclaimed as the most significant work of fiction to come out of the Vietnam War. I am happy that a generation of young men and women today have read and loved this book because it is a beautifully written and important novel about a war that is often forgotten.

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