tom bissell and vietnam


At the beginning of this fine book, Tom Bissell asks the obvious question: “More than 30,000 books on Vietnam are currently in print. Why another?” He’s certainly facing a challenge. I’ve read a great many books about that godforsaken war and written one (no longer in print, sadly), and the literature of Vietnam, both fiction and non, is flat-out excellent. So why another? “I bring … only this,” Bissell writes: “I have spent most of my life thinking about it” — and, more to the point, living with it, because his father, John, was a Marine Corps lieutenant who saw combat in Vietnam and, like so many others, brought the war home. “What I could not know about my father because of his experience has always fascinated and troubled me,” Bissell writes. Happily, for father, son and us, Harper’s Magazine agreed to send both Bissells back to Vietnam for a visit, in which much, but not everything, is learned and John Bissell comes to terms with his service, if not entirely with his son. This, then, is a book that combines the virtues of distance and immediacy — the cool perspective that comes from investigating a war that was pretty much over before the author was born and the searing immediacy of being raised by a troubled veteran of that lost war.

more from the NY Times Book Review here.