Traces of a Lost War
Author: Richard Melvin Barone
Publisher: Canto 34 Press (2009)
Binding: Hardcover, 322 pages
During the height of the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army resorted to a bait-and-switch scam that recruited thousands of unsuspecting college graduates into its combat ranks. This is the story of two of its victims--Drew and Eliot--who join the Army to become signal officers but instead are reassigned to the infantry, a misfortune that treats their beloved diplomas as one-way tickets to the jungles of Vietnam. Finding uncertainty in a certain war, they manage to avoid the most dreadful duty--point man in an infantry company. Their misadventures--Drew lugging a 25-pound radio on his back, and Eliot writing military propaganda in Saigon--lead them down different paths, one becoming a war hero, the other a casualty of war. Written from a diversity of perspectives--fictional, historical, and autobiographical--this book is about survival, not only on the battlefield, but in the mind of an artist caught between his pursuit of a masterpiece and his allegiance to the men fighting to stay alive.
Author of the Month, June 2009
A very different take on the Vietnam War
Richard Barone's Traces of a Lost War is not just another book about someone's experience of war. It is in part--as the author explains on the dust jacket--a story about two victims of a "bait and switch scam" carried out by the United States Army during the Vietnam War. According to the author, officer candidates were recruited into the Army with the explicit promise of assignment to the Army's Signal Corps. Instead, the unsuspecting young men were quickly shuffled off to the regular combat infantry... and the jungles of Vietnam.
At the outset, the book covers two men's experiences while attending the Army's Infantry School in Fort Benning, GA. Barone then covers the young men's very different experiences in Vietnam and their eventual return to "the world." The sequences in Vietnam include detailed, realistic, gripping and gritty recounting of combat in Vietnam in 1968-69.
However, this book is much more than a mere accounting of a swindle perpetrated by the US military.Nor is it simply a memoir of the author's combat experiences in Vietnam. About half-way through this book, the reader begins to discern that Traces' main character is on a journey that will take him to very different and unexpected places. It is at times artistic, brutal, philosophical, impenetrable, mysterious, religious, and carnal. Much of the "action" takes place far from the field of battle and Traces is often evocative of the bizarre and nihilistic Vietnam portrayed in Francis Ford Coppola's iconic "Apocalypse Now."
Readers unfamiliar with the various schools of art (to which the author frequently refers), might find themselves baffled by expressions such as "Mondrian idealism" or "true Dada." These certainly have meaning to the book's main character, Andrew D'Orio, as he struggles to reconcile his artistic and philosophical makeup with the brutal and surreal world he faces as a combat infantryman in Vietnam.
The reader should expect frank depictions of combat, drug use, and sex... not all of which is "traditional." In the end, the book may provide more questions than answers. Richard Barone's Traces of a Lost War is a well-written and worthwhile read.
Reviewed by: John Cathcart (2009)