Customer Reviews for

Tree of Smoke

Average Rating 3.5
( 29 )
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(12)

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(7)

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(2)

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

The Colonel, Skip, Bill, James, Trung, Hao, Fest, and Kathy

This novel is long, yes, but not so intricate that you have to keep puzzling out passages and piecing together connections. That's not to say that this is not an excellent novel or that it is not difficult. I just want all potential readers to know that this is a book...
This novel is long, yes, but not so intricate that you have to keep puzzling out passages and piecing together connections. That's not to say that this is not an excellent novel or that it is not difficult. I just want all potential readers to know that this is a book that will take hold of you and you will want to keep reading to the end. I read this novel in a week and I was completely taken into Johnson's storyworld. Coincidentally, I also read The Quiet American by Graham Greene this summer, just before picking up Tree of Smoke. I would recommend reading The Quiet American before Tree of Smoke, just to get a taste of the same themes and subjects that Denis Johnson tackles in his novel. All the major characters in Johnson's novel are worth reading about. Religion has a large place in this novel as well, just like in Greene's fiction, but I liked how religion was dealt with separately by all characters in different perspectives. For example, Trung thinks he remembers something Confucius supposedly said, 'I can't beat a sculpture from a stone with a sledgehammer I can't free the soul of a man by violence.' That's a memorable line that has stuck with me. There are also memorable parts of the novel where Carignan ruminates about Judas and readers witness Kathy's obsession with Calvin. These are all bits of the novel that remain with you long after you put the book down. That's the best endorsement I can give a novel. The time and attention you put into Johnson's work is paid back in full. You walk from his storyworld back into your life with a better understanding of yourself and the world around you. That's fiction's gift and Johnson has given us a gift as well.

posted by Anonymous on July 24, 2008

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Most Helpful Critical Review

1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

Difficult/Boring

First book I've purchased that I found difficult to get through & difficult to put down and pick back up.

posted by 2044019 on October 12, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2008

    The Colonel, Skip, Bill, James, Trung, Hao, Fest, and Kathy

    This novel is long, yes, but not so intricate that you have to keep puzzling out passages and piecing together connections. That's not to say that this is not an excellent novel or that it is not difficult. I just want all potential readers to know that this is a book that will take hold of you and you will want to keep reading to the end. I read this novel in a week and I was completely taken into Johnson's storyworld. Coincidentally, I also read The Quiet American by Graham Greene this summer, just before picking up Tree of Smoke. I would recommend reading The Quiet American before Tree of Smoke, just to get a taste of the same themes and subjects that Denis Johnson tackles in his novel. All the major characters in Johnson's novel are worth reading about. Religion has a large place in this novel as well, just like in Greene's fiction, but I liked how religion was dealt with separately by all characters in different perspectives. For example, Trung thinks he remembers something Confucius supposedly said, 'I can't beat a sculpture from a stone with a sledgehammer I can't free the soul of a man by violence.' That's a memorable line that has stuck with me. There are also memorable parts of the novel where Carignan ruminates about Judas and readers witness Kathy's obsession with Calvin. These are all bits of the novel that remain with you long after you put the book down. That's the best endorsement I can give a novel. The time and attention you put into Johnson's work is paid back in full. You walk from his storyworld back into your life with a better understanding of yourself and the world around you. That's fiction's gift and Johnson has given us a gift as well.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    An absolutely enthralling and fascinating read!

    First off please do not pay any attention to the two nitwits in the paperback reviews before me who rated this novel. I can only assume that they are the breed of the fast reads and the blueprints novels. This book is gut-wrenching, leaves blood on your hands, takes you to hell and back, but ultimately returns you right back to hell again. The characters are brilliantly rendered. I was each and everyone one of these characters in this novel. I felt what they felt. If you are looking for a novel with a happy silver-lining this book is not for you. This is American Existentialism about a war and a time that swallowed people into nothingness. There are many great questions this novel raises that can be applied to the U.S. and our engagement in the Gulf. What are our reasons for being there? What impact do we have with the people involved? What are the repercussions? This book will not answer that for you, but leaves every decision totally to your own opinion. I really appreciated how Johnson left any personal views or political slants out his story. This is by far one of the best novels I have read in years. I rank it up there with some of my favorite novels about war or revolution. I'll throw this in easily with Malraux's A Man's Fate, Celine's Journey to the End of the Night, Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, and Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. Amazing Amazing novel that I will continue to reflect and reread over the years! Thanks Denis Johnson!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2009

    Best Book I've Read in Years

    A remarkable novel. My first encounter with Denis Johnson has certainly driven me to purchase and read more of his work.

    Understand that this is not an easy novel (nor a small one). It disturbs, amuses and compels all at once.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2007

    COMPELLING, GRITTY, UNFORGETTABLE

    A highly acclaimed book that has been deemed sure to become one of the classic pieces of literature having to do with the Vietnam War deserves an outstanding narrator for the audiobook edition. That is precisely what was found in actor Will Patton. One of the busiest and most gifted performers in Hollywood, Patton has appeared in such standout films as Silkwood, The Client, and A Mighty Heart. Equally commanding on stage he has taken home two Obie Awards. His experience as a character actor is evident when he takes on the role of an old man or a person in extremis. It seems there is no one he cannot voice. If you've heard him read any stories set in the South, it is with these that he is in more than top form, embellishing the sounds of his native South Carolina. Having said all of this and after hearing his narration of Tree of Smoke, this listener totally agrees with Denis Johnson's description of Patton: 'I've worked with Will Patton on a couple of stage efforts, and I quickly developed the opinion he's not only one of the finest actors working today, but he also has a miraculous connection to the rhythms and the people and the language in my pieces.' Connect Patton does as he relates the odyssey of young, idealistic Skip Sands who seeks to prove his mettle as a CIA agent engaged in psychological warfare against the Vietcong. His hope are dashed as is his idealism. An important figure in Skip's life is his uncle, the Colonel, a war hero, who basks in that glory for a time until he, too, questions. Others caught up in the conflict are two brothers, Bill and James Houston, who find a war they cannot understand and would not have believed existed. There is also, Kathy, a widowed nurse. Compelling, gritty, unforgettable, powerful - Tree Of Smoke stands alone. - Gail Cooke

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    An absolutely enthralling and fascinating read

    First off please do not pay any attention to the two nitwits in the paperback reviews before me who rated this novel. I can only assume that they are the breed of the fast reads and the blueprints novels. This book is gut-wrenching, leaves blood on your hands, takes you to hell and back, but ultimately returns you right back to hell again. The characters are brilliantly rendered. I was each and everyone one of these characters in this novel. I felt what they felt. If you are looking for a novel with a happy silver-lining this book is not for you. This is American Existentialism about a war and a time that swallowed people into nothingness. There are many great questions this novel raises that can be applied to the U.S. and our engagement in the Gulf. What are our reasons for being there? What impact do we have with the people involved? What are the repercussions? This book will not answer that for you, but leaves every decision totally to your own opinion. I really appreciated how Johnson left any personal views or political slants out his story. This is by far one of the best novels I have read in years. I rank it up there with some of my favorite novels about war or revolution. I'll throw this in easily with Malraux's A Man's Fate, Celine's Journey to the End of the Night, Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, and Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. Amazing Amazing novel that I will continue to reflect and reread over the years! Thanks Denis Johnson!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A monumental book. . .

    Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson is a masterpiece. This book provides more evidence that Johnson is one of the greatest writers at work today. Tree of Smoke captures the utter devastation of war. No one wins in war, and Denis Johnson has done a good job of portraying that in Tree of Smoke. Don't let the size of this book deter you from reading it, it is a fast read filled with great imagery and detail. Tree of Smoke is a must read for anyone who is interested in the Vietnam War. In all reality it is a must read for anyone who enjoys great books. Tree of Smoke is one of my all time favorite books. Thank you Mr. Johnson for writing a book worth my money and time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2007

    Casualties of War

    Any mention of the Vietnam conflict ¿ or better, war ¿ conjures a mood of calamity and heartbreak with little effort. In Tree of Smoke, Denis Johnson paints a comprehensive picture of the characters caught in the pain and pathos of the terrible event. Military and civilian persons alike are well described as they find themselves enmeshed in the frustration of a war that has no victory, in which each struggles for her or his own truth in a fog of unrelenting uncertainty and hopelessness. I found the book persistently sad, and yet that is exactly the mood which hovered over the war when it transpired. This is a superb work of literary fiction. Its considerable length is necessary, to allow the reader to sense and absorb the way each person is a casualty of that war, whether involved in direct fighting or in the emotional struggles which swirled through every day of every year it happened. I was privileged to listen to the entire novel on audio, read magnificently by Will Patton, who was able to portray the vast array of different personages with great skill. It is not hard to understand why this is one of the New York Times¿ ten best books of 2007.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2007

    A reviewer

    tree of smoke reminds me of tim o'brien's 'going after cacciato'--another book i would highly recommend. the similarity is in good writing and a real grip on the futility and obsurdity of the vietnam war. of course, they part company in many ways, the most striking in the total lack of true friendship and loyality that is so present in o'brien's story. johnston's characters form no true friendships and no one tells the truth about anything--least of all to himself. it is a heart-breaking portrait of alienation, betrayal and a total withdrawal from the connections'decent' people make in the world away from vietnam. what is so amazing is that johnston brings wit and humor into this dismal microcosim of deception and brutality. i was stunned and deeply disturbed by the end and it was hard to shake myself free of it and re-enter a world of normalcy. an excellent, grand performance.

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    Posted February 13, 2011

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    Posted July 22, 2011

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    Posted December 15, 2010

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    Posted April 18, 2014

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