Sunday, September 8, 2013

Going Down the Rabbit Hole in Vietnam

Going After Cacciato
by Tim O'Brien
Published by Broadway/Crown Publishing Group
4 Out of 5 Stars

This book is not for everyone. If you have trouble suspending disbelief or issues with magical realism, walk away now or read O'Brien's The Things They Carried. However, if you can just sit back and enjoy the ride as a master storyteller blurs the lines between reality and fantasy in such a way that there are no hard and fast truths (which is the point in most of O'Brien work), then you will most likely enjoy the experience. Going After Cacciato is less accessible than The Things They Carried because trying to discern the truth of what happens when Cacciato, a young soldier in Vietnam, chooses to go AWOL and walk all the way to Paris is difficult at best. A unit is dispatched to hunt Cacciato down, but encounters a number of bizarre twists and turns along the way (think Catch-22 meets Alice in Wonderland). 

The narrative is split into three distinct time periods and told from the point of view of Paul Berlin. These distinct narratives focus on Berlin's first few months in the war, the hunt for Cacciato, and one night after the hunt for Cacciato is over (this occurs while Berlin is on night watch and thinking back to the hunt for Cacciato). The problem with making sense of the narrative comes from Paul Berlin himself--a young soldier ill-equipped to deal with the violence and atrocity of war, he uses his imagination to while away the tedious hours, as well as to re-create traumatic events with which he's not ready to cope. The point, however, is not what actually happens to Cacciato (in fact, upon a second reading, I found myself questioning the conclusion I came to after reading it for the first time), but how Berlin wisely or unwisely chooses to deal with events that are beyond his ability to control.

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