Tracy Kidder went to Vietnam as a reluctant warrior. In fact, the future Pulitzer Prize winner joined ROTC in his junior year at Harvard as a strategy to avoid the draft's uncertainties and the "unnecessary, futile, racist" war. Once in Nam, he assumed command over an anarchistic group of work-shirking enlisted men. His unit's mission was to interpret enemy troop movements from raw intelligence gathered via electronic eavesdropping. This singular memoir is devoid of battlefield heroics but captures the incongruities and abstractness of everyday wartime experience.
The older Kidder almost never relents toward his younger self. The reader is inclined to be a little more forgiving, if only because the worst of Lieutenant Kidder's reported sins are so youthful and venial, so familiar to any honest reader. But there is something else at work here, too. By being tough on his young self, Kidder knows, I think, that no one will laugh too hard at the man he used to be, who would have been wounded most by laughter. And yet if you refract the irony of this memoir a little differently, the result is high comedy. This absurdly earnest young man is guilty of not much more than being young and absurd.
The New York Times
The author of The Soul of a New Machine put in a year during the Vietnam War; he was a reluctant warrior. Kidder joined ROTC in his junior year at Harvard as a way of avoiding the draft's uncertainties. Two years later he was taking part in a war that he found "unnecessary, futile, racist," serving as a lieutenant commanding an Army Security Agency detachment of eight enlisted men inside a well-fortified infantry base camp. As a shaved-headed ROTC cadet and later as an army officer, Kidder felt "separated from my social class, from my student generation"; in Vietnam, he detached himself emotionally from the mind-numbing army bureaucracy, from his ticket-punching career officer superiors and from his iconoclastic, work-shirking enlisted men. For Kidder, there are no heroes, and, in fact, few "war stories"; he presents, instead, realistic day-to-day reports on what happened to him at his posting: the mission was to interpret enemy troop movements using raw intelligence data supplied by eavesdropping technology. His account is an introspective, demythologizing dose of reality seen through the eyes of a perceptive, though immature, army intelligence lieutenant at a rear-area base camp. War isn't hell here; it's "an abstraction, dots on a map." Agent, Georges Borchardt. (Sept. 13) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Pulitzer Prize winner Kidder (The Soul of a New Machine) turns his great gift for narrative nonfiction to his own life and tells of his year in Vietnam as a young army officer. Far from a blood-and-guts memoir, Kidder's story is one of painful self-revelation and amusing coming of age. He recounts how he joined the ROTC as a confused Harvard student, even as his opinions were turning against the war, and ended up in a not very dangerous corner of Vietnam monitoring radio patterns. His attempts to command his detachment of bored enlisted men and his letters home, which were full of fictional heroics, could have been the stuff of tragedy, but Kidder's storytelling and humor are able to do much more. His unflinching honesty is tempered by his amusement at his younger self, and the green lieutenant imperceptibly matures until he finds himself leaving Vietnam and the army as the man he had wished he could be. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/05.]-Elizabeth Morris, Illinois Fire Service Inst. Lib., Champaign, IL Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
A departure for Pulitzer Prize-winner Kidder (Mountains Beyond Mountains, 2003, etc.): a memoir recounting his time in Vietnam as a green lieutenant turned world-weary REMF. Fresh out of Robert Fitzgerald's creative writing seminar and the hip Cambridge scene, Harvard grad Kidder didn't want to go to Vietnam, and for a time it looked like he wouldn't have to-until the callow ROTC kid managed to irritate a colonel. Kidder finds himself dispatched in country to a behind-the-lines intelligence unit sorely short on the niceties of Army discipline. No sweat to him: "Why should I care if some of the men didn't shave some mornings or the jeep needed paint? I hadn't come here to harass troops. I opposed this war." (The book's nicely double-edged title says it all about his youthful self's attitude.) Even so, he meets with ribbing, scorn and near-mutiny from many of his men. They come to accept him, though, and even to straighten up a little bit when he responds to a night attack by turning out wearing "steel pot and flak jacket and .45"-and nothing else. In this short account, Kidder concentrates on the absurdities of Army life, relating episodes in which he figures as a Yossarian surrounded by strange people who seem not to understand that what they're doing is dangerous. The narrative, gracefully written and full of rueful, black humor, takes its time in gathering steam, but Kidder punctuates his leisurely account with zingers, like a scarifying letter to his onetime girlfriend, and bittersweet moments such as a visit to a Singapore brothel. Best of these is an encounter long after the war with one of his men, a Chicano boy who once reminded him in the field, "We can shoot you any time we want,Lieutenant." The kid made it back home, only to return to Vietnam with the CIA. A modest contribution compared to such classics such as Dispatches and A Rumor of War, but worthy of attention all the same.