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Going After Cacciato - Tim O'Brien "You VC?" he demanded of a little girl with braids. "You dirty VC?" The girl smiled. "Shit, man," she said gently. "You shittin' me?"

I met Tim O'Brien briefly when he toured for [b:In the Lake of the Woods|3447|In the Lake of the Woods|Tim O'Brien|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1349080604s/3447.jpg|1144054]back in 1994. Along with his signature he wrote on my copy of the book the word "Peace". I thanked him for his service to his country and I can remembered he paused for a moment, just long enough for me to think I'd completely FUBARed the situation. Then he stood up and shook my hand looking me in the eye for a little longer than was comfortable. There was this bristling energy coming off him and I found myself tongue tied. I'd planned to talk to him about his importance to Vietnam literature. I stood there wrestling with my mind trying to force it to reengage to pop out of vapor lock. He handed the book back to me and I had to move on. I do wish that I hadn't stood there like a moron, but I wouldn't have traded that handshake for anything.

Soldier Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien was drafted into the United States Army in 1968 and served in Vietnam until 1970.

Cacciato has a dream. He will share this dream with anyone who will give him the time to tell it. He is convinced that he can leave the war in Vietnam and walk to Paris. One day he disappears and the platoon knows he has started to realize his dream. Paul Berlin is a dreamer. On every report card ever sent home to his parents teachers made a notation about his excessive daydreaming. In Vietnam he is focused much more closely on minute detail than he is on the scope of the war. For example after pickup basketball games he goes through every pass, every shot, every spin move; picking it apart, finding the errors, and fixing what went wrong. The war is like a fly buzzing in the window just within his peripheral vision, but the real world was existing behind his eyes.

In his fantasy world the platoon takes off through the jungle after Cacciato.

"Yes, they were in jungle now. Thick dripping jungle. Club moss fuzzing on bent branches, hard green bananas dangling from trees that canopied in lush sweeps of green, vaulted forest light in yellow-green and blue-green and olive-green and silver-green, the smell of chlorophyll, jungle sounds and jungle depth. It was true jungle. Soft, humming jungle. Everywhere, greenery deep in greenery, earth like sponge. Itching jungle, lost jungle. A botanist's madhouse."

Reality mixes in with fantasy as the platoon continues it's quest to find Cacciato. All the members of the platoon are frustrated to various degrees with the war. "So here we are...nothing to order, no substance. Aimless, that's what it is: a bunch of kids trying to pin a tail on the Asian donkey. But no fuckin tail. No fuckin donkey."


In his mind Paul moves the platoon about like chess pieces on a board. Improbable circumstances develop needing improbable solutions for the fantasy quest to continue. I identified with Paul maybe too much. I have always spent an inordinate amount of time daydreaming and given the unbelievable circumstances that a front line soldier in Vietnam often found himself; I would be building cities, developing characters, and living as much as possible in a world of my own creating. Paris, to Cacciato and; therefore, for Paul, is looked on as the first city among civilization, and when they dream about leaving the war they are dreaming about escaping to the most civilized place on the planet.

This was a quick read. The whole time I'm marveling at the ability of Tim O'Brien to keep all the balls suspended in the air. He made me believe what was fantasy and disbelieve what was real. He discusses fear and courage and duty and the blurred lines that define all of them. An unusual Vietnam book, but a book that tries to shine a light on a war that made no sense whatsoever. A war "without clear moral purpose."

"The issue, of course, was courage. How to behave. Whether to flee or fight or seek an accommodation. The issue was not fearlessness. The issue was how to act wisely in spite of fear. Spiting the deep-running biles: that was true courage. He believe this. And he believed the obvious corollary: the greater a man's fear, the greater his potential courage."