Of Rice and Men: A Novel of Vietnam [NOOK Book]


Spreading democracy takes more than cutting-edge military hardware. Winning the hearts and minds of a troubled nation is a special mission we give to bewildered young soldiers who can’t speak the native language, don’t know the customs, can’t tell friends from enemies, and–in this wonderfully outrageous Iraq-era novel about Vietnam–wonder why they have to risk their lives spraying peanut plants, inoculating pigs, and hauling miracle rice seed ...
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Of Rice and Men: A Novel of Vietnam

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Spreading democracy takes more than cutting-edge military hardware. Winning the hearts and minds of a troubled nation is a special mission we give to bewildered young soldiers who can’t speak the native language, don’t know the customs, can’t tell friends from enemies, and–in this wonderfully outrageous Iraq-era novel about Vietnam–wonder why they have to risk their lives spraying peanut plants, inoculating pigs, and hauling miracle rice seed for Ho Chi Minh.

Brash, eye-opening, and surprisingly comic, Of Rice and Men displays the same irreverent spirit as the black-comedy classics Catch-22 and MASH–as it chronicles the American Army’s little known “Civil Affairs” soldiers who courageously roam hostile war zones, not to kill or to destroy, but to build, to feed, and to heal. Unprepared, uncertain, and naive, they find it impossible to make the skeptical population fall in love with them.

But it’s thrilling to watch them try.

Among the unforgettable characters: Guy Lopaca, an inept Army-trained interpreter who can barely say “I can’t speak Vietnamese” in Vietnamese, but has no trouble chatting with stray dogs and water buffalo. Guy’s friends include “Virgin Mary” Crocker, a pragmatic nurse earning a fortune spending nights with homesick soldiers; Paul Gianelli, a heroic builder of medical clinics who doesn’t want to be remembered badly, so he never goes home; and Tyler DeMudge, whose cure for every problem is a chilly martini, a patch of shade, and the theory that every bad event in life is “good training” for enduring it again.

Pricelessly funny, disarming, thought-provoking, as fresh as the morning headlines, and bursting with humor, affection, and pride, Of Rice and Men is a sincere tribute to those young men and women, thrust into our hearts-and-minds wars, who try to do absolute good in a hopeless situation.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A comic novel about the Vietnam War? Has that much time passed? In fact, this is not the first, but as Vietnam novels go, it's pretty funny. Guy Lopaca arrives in Vietnam fresh out of the elite Army Language School and is assigned to work for civil affairs, units set up to win hearts and minds by providing technical help to villagers. Guy quickly realizes the language he learned from American Ph.D.s bears no resemblance to any spoken in Vietnam, and much of the book recounts his slapstick efforts at communication. Of the 73 episodic chapters, 60 or so feature Guy; other POV draftees include ex-business student Paul Gianelli and aspiring academic Arthur Grissom. To his credit, Galli, a former lawyer and civil affairs interpreter in Vietnam who was a member of GIs for Peace, makes cultural misunderstanding a two-way street. And despite the humor, few characters are comic clich s: no officer is more than mildly incompetent; enlisted men yearn for home but do their jobs, more or less. The war is horrible, but occurs mostly out of sight. This is a clever, quirky, surprisingly uncynical view of Vietnam. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A deeply-felt, brilliantly written comedy about...the Vietnam War. This debut novel from Galli (Rescuing Jeffrey, 2000) centers on a pair of protagonists: both in their early 20's, both well educated and both scared silly when, coincidentally, they arrive in Vietnam on the same plane. Guy Lopaca has gone through the Army's Defense Language Institute and qualified as an interpreter, though, as he soon discovers, his on-the-scene fluency rating hovers between negligible and nil. Twanging, cacophonic Vietnamese "was, to him, like trying to translate fireworks on the Fourth of July." Arthur Grissom, attached to the 23rd Radio Research Battalion as a company clerk, is as safely distanced as Guy. After landing, the two men never again connect, but their stories unfold in a series of sharply etched (mostly hilarious) vignettes that are not dissimilar. Because the men themselves are rather like two sides of the same coin-sensitive, observant and, while deeply grateful for the cushiness of their assignments, vulnerable to attacks of survivor's guilt whenever the real war rears back, rattling their consciousness. Which it does not infrequently, since Galli fully understands that good comic novels can't exist without some sort of tragic relief. Very funny novel that misses few opportunities, but one that is invariably respectful, compassionate and often downright admiring toward its cast of clowns.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307416278
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/18/2007
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 848,314
  • File size: 742 KB

Meet the Author

Richard Galli peels back decades of cynicism and shows us that within the young Americans we send to war there sometimes beat gentle, optimistic, hilarious hearts. A former Army interpreter, journalist, and then a lawyer for nearly thirty years, he reduced his law practice to help care for his son, who was paralyzed in a swimming accident on the Fourth of July, 1998. His memoir, Rescuing Jeffrey, was hailed as “a huge story . . . unflinchingly told” by The New York Times Book Review. Galli lives with his family in East Greenwich, Rhode Island.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt


Crash Landing

The men thought they were dying in a fiery plane crash, but it was only a perfect landing at Tan Son Nhut.

“Jesus Christ!” Guy Lopaca swore.

“Jesus Christ,” Arthur Grissom prayed.

It felt as if their pilot had jettisoned the airliner’s wings. The plane suddenly pointed its nose straight down, took on maniacal speed, and headed dartlike toward Asia.

A moment before, as the intercom casually told them to get ready for landing in Vietnam, Guy Lopaca had experienced a moderate chill, and thought:

I might actually die in this war. . . .

Now, as the plane abruptly rotated and the earth down below became the earth directly in front, and rushing closer, Lopaca began thinking:

I might actually die in this seat. . . .

The young men expected an erratic flight path, to minimize the hazard of enemy ground fire. But right now, to the frenzied soldiers hurtling down an insanely perpendicular flight path, a few casualties from ground fire seemed to be a reasonable price to pay if it meant coming in with some survivors. Most of the frantic GIs held their breath, some closed their eyes, and one tried to vomit but, because of the awful speed, nothing came out.

At the last possible instant, the pilot pulled the nose up, and the plane crashed—Screech! Whomp!—safely onto its landing gear. The terrified young men had arrived in the war zone. They were not dead yet. As the troops shivered, thanked their gods, and wondered what horrible feeling the war would inflict on them next, their twenty-one-year-old stewardess pixie with hips to die for shimmied down the aisle and told them to keep their seat belts carefully fastened for just a little bit longer, y’all.

At that moment, she was everything the young men desperately wanted, and would have to do without. She was the girl some men had sought all their lives; the girl some men had left behind; and the girl some men would die without ever knowing. Arthur Grissom wanted to reach out and touch her. Guy Lopaca wanted to go home, meet her at the door, and tell her once more that he loved her. She left a froth of terrible longing in her wake.

Even before the airplane came to a stop, the young men felt as if they had been in Vietnam, dazed and lonely, for a hundred years.

Guy Takes His Turn at War

Inside the terminal, the young men were mashed into muttering clumps, then herded outdoors to a corral near their ground transportation, at which they would gaze in frustration for hours before boarding. But Guy Lopaca was culled from the crowd.

As soon as he entered the terminal, Lopaca noticed a slender GI waving a big sign:

Welcome Guy Lopaca Nice Test Scores!

“Are you looking for me?” Guy asked the stranger. The young man smiled back, and kept bobbing his sign up and down.

“Hell no,” he said, “I’m looking for one of those other Guy Lopacas they got on the plane. You know, one with some common sense.”

Guy blushed. “I’m Guy Lopaca,” he said. “I don’t think there are any others.”

“Well, let’s take a chance on that,” the young man said. “Follow me.”

The GI led Guy out of the terminal and walked him to a small prop jet whose engines were idling.

“This here’s a Guy Lopaca they had on that plane,” the GI said to the prop jet’s crewman. “He swears there ain’t any others. So I guess you can get along now.”

“Nice to see you,” the crewman said, helping stow Guy’s duffel bag. “Strap yourself in and we’ll be on our way.”

“Where are we going?” Guy asked.

“Well,” the crewman said as the engines lit up, “I’m planning on going to heaven, the pilot’s going to hell for sure, and you’re going to Hue, eventually.”

“Hue’s pretty far north, isn’t it?” Guy asked.

“Way up north,” the crewman said as the plane started to move. “Real far north. They say when Ho Chi Minh takes his dog for a walk, it shits on Hue.”

As the plane thrust upward, Guy put his head back and tried to visualize Hue on the map of South Vietnam. But all he could see, when he closed his eyes, was a grainy old newsreel film of the landing at Normandy, on D-Day, 1944. The puffy gray shape of an overloaded GI staggered up the beach a few steps and then, as a German bullet hit him, collapsed into a nameless, faceless lump on the sand. Guy Lopaca had been witnessing that soul-searing sacrifice over and over since he was ten years old.

Guy owed so much to that unlucky young soldier. That young man had given everything he had, just to be there on the beach with other young men who needed to be there with him. Guy hoped he could live up to the standard that brave stranger had set.

It’s my turn now, Guy thought sadly. He joined hands over the decades with his brother soldier on the Normandy beach. It’s my turn now, as it was your turn then, Guy promised him.

Then Guy looked around the cabin of the little jet, in which he was the only passenger. The crewman was smoking a marijuana cigarette, and reading a Playboy magazine, while rock music blared from nicely-tuned stereo speakers. There was a can of cold soda on Guy’s tray, next to a package of salted peanuts.

It’s my turn now, Lopaca called to his long-dead comrade on the Normandy beach. But, you know, my accommodations seem to be a whole lot better than yours were. . . .

Full-Boogie Jam

The shuttle chopper angled out of the clouds, settled onto its macadam nest, and dropped a single egg: Guy Lopaca, wide-eyed and fresh from The World. Guy stepped onto the tarmac elated and terrified. Elated because his great adventure had finally begun. Terrified because he sensed that somewhere in the dark hills around him, under the heavy concealing clouds, an Asian sniper was drawing a patient bead on Guy’s anxious body.

It was raining lightly. Guy shivered, damp and apprehensive. He didn’t know what to do now that he had arrived. He didn’t know where to go. The helicopter crew—who had picked him up where the prop jet had set him down—were no help. They didn’t talk to new guys. Only short-timers could speak on their ship.

Soon a young man appeared from out of a Quonset hut. Hatless in the drizzle, his red hair matted and bright, he had a wide smile on his face as he jogged toward Guy. The young man carried an enormous duffel bag, overstuffed. He flipped it around casually, as if it were a helium balloon.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2006

    Grunt or REMF you'll love this book

    We had our 'Naked and the Dead' with 'Better times than These', our 'Guadalcanal Diary' with 'We Were Soldiers Once and Young'. Now we've finally got our very own 'Catch-22' with 'Of Rice and Men'. It's a very funny and insightful story of one man and his tour of duty as a translater with a civil affairs unit up in Hue City. Well at least the central character, Guy Lopaca, thought he was a translater till his CO has him delivering 'Miracle Rice' that the 'Yards don't want to plant nor grow because it tastes awful so they end up selling it to the NVA. The story illustrates the stupidity of the military with bewildered humor and the futility of trying to make sense of why we were there to begin with. There's even a profane, germane Christmas Carol that B&N won't let me enter here . If you were there get this book and read it...hell, get it and read it even if you weren't there. You won't be disappointed.

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