Winner of the National Book Award, Going After Cacciato captures the peculiar mixture of horror and hallucination that marked the Vietnam War, this strangest of wars.
In a blend of reality and fantasy, this novel tells the story of a young soldier who one day lays down his rifle and sets off on a quixotic journey from the jungles of Indochina to the streets of Paris.In its memorable evocation of men both fleeing from and meeting the demands of battle, Going After Cacciato stands as much more than just a great war novel.
Ultimately it's about the forces of fear and heroism that do battle in the hearts of us all.
About the Author
Tim O'Brien was born in Minnesota and served as a foot soldier in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970, and after graduate studies at Harvard worked as a reporter for the Washington Post. When If I Die in a Combat Zone was published in 1973, it established him as one of the leading American writers of his generation, a status that was confirmed when Going After Cacciato won the National Book Award for fiction.
It's hard not to be of two more or less uneasy minds about this ambitious book. O'Brien (If I Die In A War Zone, Northern Lights) has come directly to his subject - Vietnam - with great formal care and deep knowledge, and yet at least half the time it feels as if he's traveling in someone else's boots. In a fugue of fantasy chapters interspersed with astringently realistic flashbacks, Specialist Fourth Class Paul Berlin endures the life of a foot-soldier in Quang Ngai province; when a grunt named Cacciato - "dumb as a bullet" - one day picks up and sets off through the jungle, destination Paris, Berlin's patrol is sent after him. Fantasy takes over as, through Laos, India, Iran, Greece, and finally Paris, a dream of "possibility" and peace develops that could not be in greater contrast to the hell (in flashbacks) of normal war: the fragging of a by-the-book lieutenant, a medic feeding a dying soldier M&Ms and calling them "pills," desperate basketball games in the jungle. The revulsion, pity, and sheer documentary vividness O'Brien can draw from his real-Vietnam material is truly remarkable. But the fantasy journey and the Cacciato metaphor lack parallel strength: "The real issue was the power of the will to defeat fear. . . . Somehow working his way into that secret chamber of the human heart, where, in tangles, lay the circuitry for all that was possible, the full range of what a man might be." Such fustian/imitation-Hemingway tendencies rub up against balloony characters like a young Vietnamese refugee girl who accompanies the Quixote-like patrol on its mission to Paris and who seems more like an obligation to story than a deeply felt personality. "Where was the fulcrum? Where did it tilt from fact to imagination? How far had Cacciato led them?" Paul Berlin wonders - and so do we as we follow O'Brien through what's too often a large shell that unfairly shadows writing and intelligence of the highest order and honesty. (Kirkus Reviews)