Wounded, A Novel Beyond Love and War
Author: Richard Gaines Graham
Publisher: Maharg Press (2010)
Binding: Paperback, 314 pages
History teaches that when incompatible visions of the world collide, young men die. For the generation that fought in Vietnam many did die, and many more were wounded—some physically, some emotionally, some even romantically. The combat scenes in Wounded are vivid and ugly; some show heroism, but they do not glorify armed conflict. On the other hand, war can reveal the human imperative to endure under life-threatening conditions. Such moments demand a counterpoint, a personal connection, and when survival is in the balance, human love triumphs. Some look back at that tumultuous time with sadness, some with pride, and some, still, in anger. But we are all compelled to look back.
Long Binh, Republic of Vietnam, 1970, Lieutenant Alexander Marwick, unlike his friends attached to combat units, is mired in a backwater of the Vietnam War, serving as an aide-de-camp to an irascible general and salvaging his self-esteem following a failed romance with Cléo, an American Red Cross volunteer. His eagerly anticipated return to the States is interrupted by the arrival of his stepfather, a powerful U.S. senator who comes to Vietnam with an assignment—a clandestine diplomatic mission to find the elusive Le Van Duc, a mysterious and immensely wealthy Vietnamese veteran with contacts in the North Vietnamese Politburo. Finding and then convincing Duc to relay a secret peace proposal is the most audacious of the U. S. government’s efforts to orchestrate an end to the war in Vietnam.
Marwick reluctantly accepts the assignment, which takes him to Duc’s lavish hidden residence near the Golden Triangle in eastern Burma, to the back alleys of Bangkok, to a reunion with Khanh, Duc’s exotic daughter—an intimate friend from Marwick’s college days in Paris—to a monastery in communist-infested Cambodia, and finally to the British hill station of Darjeeling, India.
Once a naive, frivolous junior army officer, Marwick becomes an adroit and resourceful player in a high-stakes and perilous game of international intrigue. In the course of his mission his honor and courage are put to an even more demanding test when he discovers that he is the father of a child.
Twenty-two years later, at this child’s college graduation, a reconciliation takes place, and the drama that was Vietnam is finally laid to rest.
Twelve years in the making and loosely based on the author’s eighteen months in Vietnam and Southeast Asia in 1969−1970, this coming-of-age adventure story unfolds amidst tense scenes of war, personal tragedy, and a turbulent love affair.
There are many excellent Vietnam novels; most are set in combat units. Graham has penned a different and intriguing tale about a young, enthusiastic, Army artillery officer. The member of a prominent family, he becomes disillusioned in Vietnam. A story, peppered with realistic men and women seeking survival and love in the caldron that was Vietnam. He captures the dedication, emotions, fears, and joys of the men and women fighting a war their nation does not understand or support.
The novel begins with the main character, Lieutenant Alexander Marwick, who is General Claywood’s aid-de-camp, following the general on an inspection tour of a howitzer firebase. Marwick, a trained Army artillery forward observer (FO) is unhappy with his assignment to II Field Force. He feels guilty that he is not doing the important job he for which he was trained, while others are in harm’s way. Instead, he is the lackey of a bitter general, an assignment that has made Marwick bitter too. The inspection tour is interrupted by a mortar attack—Marwick’s first exposure to enemy fire. When they return to headquarters, Marwick learns that his stepfather, Senator Hughes, a man he dislikes, is at the embassy and has sent for him. They meet and Marwick discovers his mother is responsible for his “cushy” assignment. Hughes is there to recruit his stepson for a secret mission that will begin as soon as his tour is up.
Marwick discovers his stepfather was in the OSS in WWII and worked with a man named Le Van Duc, a mysterious Vietnamese with connections to the “moderate” members of the North Vietnam politburo. Marwick accepts the senator’s mission to deliver a letter to Le Van Duc. He had had an affair with Van Duc’s daughter, Khanh, in Paris. The remainder of the story is about Marwick’s adventures while seeking to make contact with Van Duc. The story has scenes of intense combat. His buddy from Fort Sill, Lieutenant Jack Riley, and three women, Cleo, Khanh, and Sally, complicate Marwick’s life and mission. To say more will ruin the story for readers.
Graham has a gift for describing scenes and places. He was there, and much of the background is based on his experiences. Wounded is not a thriller nor action novel. It is more of a spy novel, but even that is not a good description. However you describe the story, it is a captivating read and I highly recommend it.
Reviewed by: Lee Boyland (2011)