Monday, March 1, 2010


Tobias Wolff’s In Pharoah’s Army is a well-written, entertaining, and humorous account of the author’s army career and service as a young artillery (translator) lieutenant attached to a unit in South Vietnam, a stay that included his participation in the infamous Tet Offensive. Comprised mostly of short anecdotal stories, the book reveals both the horrors and humor of participation in war. Some stories were especially good, such as (with his sergeant) his appropriating a color television during a bustling trade in "war mementos") so that they could watch Bonanza and his saving a small puppy from the spit. He seems brutally honest in his descriptions of his actions (including noting that he literally shit in his pants after a grenade failed to explode under his truck), the behavior and attitudes of the local population, his less-than-sterling performance (which included the shelling of the nearby town), and his family and relationships (including his scam-artist father). It has been drilled in my head that Tet was a lesson for the Americans, but Wolff points out that it was meant to be a lesson for the South Vietnamese. I enjoyed this book and recommend to readers who want to learn more about the war.

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