Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Tree of Smoke - post VI

Tree of Smoke is a really lesson in reading. The first 200 pages seemed to be going nowhere fast and then with a bang this book grabs your round the throat and you are hooked.

As the action calms down from the James Houston storyline of combat in Tet in 1968 it moves to concentrate on the Tree of Smoke plan being carried out by Skip Sands uncle. The colonel plans to use a double agent to plant disinformation. The only problem is that the rest of the CIA don’t seem to be prepared to go along with it and the colonel is falling apart and falling off the pace as the war changes tack and becomes something embarrassing to the authorities.

It’s 1969 and the idea that the war can be won is evaporating and now the true sense of despair is setting in. For those that have been taken through the hell of fighting and lost their morals and minds to the war the idea of going back to civilisation and back home is completely alien.

“I’m here because I won’t go back to my homeland. Go back to what? A bewildering place full of left-leaning feminine weirdos. What if I do go back? What then? Retire to North Carolina and die and get a forty-foot bridge over a creek named after me.”

If Johnson managed to convey the sense of fear and confusion of war then he follows that up with a very believable picture of the sense of reality drift felt by those in Vietnam who have lost touch with everything that they left behind at home.

Films like Platoon and Full Metal Jacket also get that sense across but here it is much more tangible and as a the spy versus spy story emerges that grips you almost as much as the battlegrounds in the jungles of Tet.

With his mother dead, the colonel murdered and the war closing him out – something Skip Sands so much wanted to be part of - where next? That’s what keeps you reading.

More tomorrow…

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