Sympathy for the Devil

( 4 )


Censured by some critics for its brutality but heralded by others as a modern-day classic, Sympathy for the Devil is a terrifying, intoxicating journey through the violence, madness, and insane beauty of battle. It traces the story of a hardened Green Beret named Hanson, a college student who goes to war with a book of Yeats's poetry in his pocket and discovers the savagery within himself.

In this extraordinary novel, we follow Hanson through two tours of duty and a bitter ...

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Censured by some critics for its brutality but heralded by others as a modern-day classic, Sympathy for the Devil is a terrifying, intoxicating journey through the violence, madness, and insane beauty of battle. It traces the story of a hardened Green Beret named Hanson, a college student who goes to war with a book of Yeats's poetry in his pocket and discovers the savagery within himself.

In this extraordinary novel, we follow Hanson through two tours of duty and a bitter attempt to live as a civilian in between. At one with the lush and dangerous world around him in Vietnam, Hanson is doomed to survive the landscape of devastation he encounters. Sympathy for the Devil contains some of the most vivid, finely etched prose ever written about the actual process of war—from firing a weapon for the first time in battle to the moment a young man knows that he has entered a living hell and found a home....

Written by a veteran, here is the highly acclaimed Vietnam novel about a college boy's initiation into the harsh world of battle.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Anderson has a profundity found with novelists of the human experience who have observed, can interpret and then carry us back to smell, hear and bleed."
Los Angeles Times

"Tear[s] like a burst of tracers through the field of Vietnam War literature...riveting."
— Dale A. Dye, Captain, U.S.M.C. (Ret.), author of the novel Platoon

— Oliver Stone

Novels by Kent Anderson
Night Dogs
Sympathy for the Devil

Available from Bantam Dell Books

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Reflecting the author's own experiences, the characters in this graphic, grippingly authentic first novel are the combat-tested soldiers of the Special Forces in Vietnam. Quinn, nerveless, seemingly made of granite and steel, amuses hismelf and some onlookers by biting off the heads of live ducklings. Hanson, the protagonist, who begins his mornings with beer and amphetamines, not only enlisted for service in Nam while in law school but signed on for an extra year for the privilege of joining the elite corps. ``College boy'' though he isa term of contempt mixed with envyhis patriotic credientials are unimpeachable: he, too, can't abide hippies, draft dodgers, antiwar protesters and other ``sloths.'' When Quinn is accidentally killed by blundering American troops, Hanson exacts bizarre, deranged, murderous revenge in a wild climactic scene that serves to compound the novel's ambiguous perspective on war in general and the Vietnam conflict in particular. Though a skillful writer, Anderson's depiction of war is a shade too melodramatic and cinematic, too much a way of separating the men from the boys. Yet he vividly involves the reader in the unending nightmare thatHanson is ``doomed to survive.'' (August 21)
Library Journal
Hanson is an effective killing machine in Vietnam. He exults in the chase, the surviving, the countryside, and a few buddies, like Quinn and Silver. In a series of episodes the cruelty and madness of war mold him into almost a nonhuman. The scenes of his basic training and the idiocy of his various officers strengthen his inner resources. In the dramatic climax his buddies die, but Hanson is ``doomed to survive the war.'' There are plenty of passages of power and almost unbearable descriptions in this deeply felt first novel; but the organization of the material is shaky, and some of the transitions are weak. Still, a potent study of men at war. Robert H. Donahugh, Youngstown & Mahoning Cty. P.L., Ohio
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553580877
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/1/2000
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 528,966
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.85 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Kent Anderson is a former police officer, a former Special Forces sergeant in Vietnam, and the author of Night Dogs. He lives in Idaho.

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Read an Excerpt


A sheet of paper was tacked to the wall over  Hanson's bunk:

Every day in the world a hundred thousand people die. A human life means nothing.

General Vo Nguyen Giap, Commander-in-Chief, North Vietnamese Army

"In order to despise suffering, to be always content and never astonished at anything, one  must reach such a state as this"—and Ivan Dmitrich indicated the obese peasant, bloated with fat—"or else one must harden one's self through sufferings to such a degree as to lose all sensitivity to them: that is, in other words, cease to live."

Anton Chekhov

Hanson stood just inside the heavy-timbered  door of his concrete bunker, looking out.  There was no moon yet. The only sound was  the steady sobbing of the big diesel generators,  but Hanson heard nothing. Had the generators  ever stopped he would have heard the silence,  a silence that would have bolted him wide-awake, armed, and out of his bunk if he were asleep.

He stepped from the doorway and began  walking across the inner perimeter toward  the teamhouse, a squat shadow ahead of him  in the dark. His web gear, heavy with ammunition  and grenades, swung from one shoulder like  easy, thoughtful breathing. The folding-stock  AK-47 in his right hand was loaded with a  gracefully curving thirty-round magazine.

As he got closer to the teamhouse,  he could feel the drums and steel-stringed  guitar on the back of his sunburned forearms  and against the tender broken hump on his  nose. Then he could hear it.

Hanson smiled. "Stones," he said  softly. He didn't have enough to pick out  the song, but the bass and drums  were pure Stones.

He slid the heavy, light-proof door  open and stepped into the bright teamhouse.  The song, "Under My Thumb," was pumping  out of Silver's big Japanese speakers.

Quinn was pouting and strutting to  the music, one hand hooked in his pistol  belt, the other hand thrust out, thumbs down,  like Caesar at the Roman games sending the  pike into another crippled loser. His small blue eyes were  close-set, cold and flat as the weekly casualty  announcement, as he mouthed the words.

Hanson shrugged his web gear to the  floor, shouted, "Let me guess," and pressed  his hand to his freckled forehead. He pointed  at Quinn and shouted into the music, "Mick  Jagger, right? Your new Jagger impersonation."  His snub-nosed combat magnum glinted from  its shoulder holster.

Quinn ignored him, pounding the floor  like a clog dancer.

The battered white refrigerator was  turned up to high in the damp heat, and gouts  of frost dropped to the floor when Hanson  opened it to get a Black Label beer. The  seams and lip of the black&red cans were  rusty from the years they had been stockpiled  on the Da Nang docks. Years of raw monsoon  and swelling summer heat had turned the American  beer bitter. But it was cold; it made his  fillings ache when he drank it.

Hanson took a flesh-colored quart jar  from the top of the refrigerator, screwed  off the top, and took out two of the green&white  amphetamine capsules. He knocked them back  with the icy beer.

Beats coffee for starting the day,  he thought, smiling, recalling the double-time  marching chant back at Fort Bragg: "Airborne  Ranger Green Beret, this is the way we start  our day," running the sandhills before  dawn, the rumor that one team had run over  a PFC from a supply unit who had been drunkenly  crossing the road in front of them. The team  had trampled him and left him behind, never  getting out of step, chanting each time their  left jump boot hit the ground, "Pray  for war. Pray for war. Pray for war."

He sat down on one of the wooden footlockers  and began thumbing through the Time  magazine that had come in on the last mail  chopper.

The Stones finished "Under My  Thumb," paused, and began "Mother's  Little Helper." Quinn turned the volume  down and walked over to Hanson. He moved  with ominous deliberation, like a man carrying  nitroglycerin. People got uncomfortable if  Quinn moved too close or too quickly.

"Keepin' up with current events, my  man?" he asked Hanson. "How's the war going  these days?"

"This magazine says we're kicking  shit out of 'em. But now," Hanson said,  tapping the open magazine, "what about the  home front? They've got problems too. Take  this young guy, a "Cornell Senior' it says  here, "I'm nervous as hell. I finally decide  on a field—economics—and then I find out  I'm number fifty-nine in the draft lottery.'  Rough, huh? Just when he decided on economics."

Hanson thumbed through the magazine,  singing softly, ". . . My candy man, he's come an' gone. Mah candy man, he's come an' gone. An' I love ever'thing in this godomighty world, God knows I do . . ."

To the west a heavy machine gun was  firing, the distant pounding as monotonous  as an assembly-line machine. Artillery was  going in up north. Three guns working out.  They were good, the rounds going in one on  top of the other, each explosion like a quick  violent wind, the sound your firestarter  makes when you touch off the backyard charcoal  grill. Normal night sounds.

Hanson read the ads out loud. ""There's  a Ford in your future.' "Tired  of diet plans that don't work? . . .'"

"Then come to Vietnam, fat boy,"  Quinn shouted, "and get twenty pounds blown  off your ass."

A short, wiry man came into the teamhouse.  He wore round wire-rim glasses and had a  thin white scar running from his lip up to  the side of his nose like a harelip.

"Silver," Hanson yelled to him, then  almost said, how much weight did you  lose on the Vietnam high-explosive diet plan,  but changed his mind. Silver had lost half  his team, and his partner was in Japan with  no legs.

"How's that hole in your ass?" Hanson  asked him.

Silver couldn't talk without moving,  gesturing, ducking, and jabbing like a boxer.  He talked fast, and when he laughed it was  a grunt, like he'd just taken a punch in  the chest. "I like it a lot," he said.  "Thinking about getting one on the other  side. For symmetry, you know? Dimples. A  more coordinated limp," he said, walking  quickly forward then backward like a broken  mechanical man. Then he stopped and stared  at the reel-to-reel tape deck.

"Listen to that," he said, cocking  his head slightly. "Background hiss. And  that tape's almost new."

"How much longer you gonna be on stand-down,  you skinny little gimp?" Quinn asked him.

"Couple weeks. I'll fake it a little  longer if I have to. Captain says he's gonna  try and get Hanadon up here from the C team  for my partner. I don't want to go out with  some new guy."

". . . Candy man," Hanson sang to himself as he leafed through the magazine, "he been and gone, oh my candy man, he been and gone. Well I wish I was down in New Or-leens . . ."

"And look here," he said, holding  up the magazine. "President visiting the  troops over at the Third Mech fire base."

Silver had a slight limp as he walked  over. He looked at the two-page color spread.  "Shit," he said, then laughed. "I was  there. After they fixed me up, but before  they said I could come back here. The troops  down there? They spent three weeks building  wooden catwalks around the guns so the Prez  wouldn't get his feet muddy. Of course, huh,  they weren't able to use the guns for fire  missions for three weeks, but they looked  good. Issued all the troops brand-new starched  fatigues an hour before The Man was supposed  to get there, and made 'em stand around at  parade rest so they wouldn't get wrinkled.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2005

    A Special Operations Classic

    Sympathy for the Devil (SD) is not marked by technical or tactical detail but, rather, excels at evoking and imparting a mindset within layered contexts. This is a 'must read' for past, present and future operators. I read SD in the late 80's and think of it often to this day. Happened upon the copy I read in a SOCSOUTH ISOFAC. When do we get an update on Hanson?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2000

    A Page turner from start to finish.

    This book is by far one of the best books that I've read in a long time. I'm not a big 'fiction buff,' but this book changed my mind. The author writes with first hand knowledge of the Spec-Op's community. BUY THIS BOOK, it's perfect for that occasional down time in the field, or whenever you read. If you pick up this book, you won't be able to put it down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2000

    excellent read

    I could not put this book down. It takes you inside of Hansons' insanity and puts a greater perspective on Night Dogs(which I read first). This book pumps the adrenaline into your system and makes one respect wartime soldiers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2000



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