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NAM, The Story of a Generation: (a novel) (2017)

por Mel Smith

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Through battle, love's heartbreak, and unbelievable loss follow the lives of three Vietnam War combatants, a North Vietnamese patriot and two untested American boys, as they deal with the legacy of their nations' tragedy. A historically accurate, riveting account of the war, its personal cost and the lingering aftermathA riveting, historically accurate tale of war's horror, impossible love, and ultimate redemption. This is the Vietnam generation's story.- - -It was the sixties. We were the baby boomers and our fathers had fought in World War II--the heroes who saved the world from tyranny. It was our obligation to serve, as they had. To duck service, was not an option; not if you believed in life in America, the American way, and family values.- - -"No, Cam...I'm right about Vietnam and World War II," he said, pointing the two fingers holding his cigarette at me like darts. "You'd better have a damn good reason to ask a man to put his life on the line 'cause there's no greater sacrifice he can make. Our fathers had Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo to fight...some of the biggest evil the world has ever known. They really were fighting for freedom and our way of life. Losing wasn't an option."What did we have'... Huh? What the fu** did we have to fight for? Not a goddamn thing We went because we were Americans...because we were asked by our country to go...young men always have been. So we went...and we died. That's bravery and sacrifice above and beyond the call, my friend. Dyin' for nothin'...that's a hell of a thing to ask of a man."- - -In his debut novel, Mel Smith immerses you into the lives of both American and Vietnam--civilian and combatant. NAM The Story of a Generation, is a story about the Americans who fought in the war and those who opposed it; it is a story of the emotional drive of the civilians and soldiers of North and South Vietnam who fought to free a nation.An epic novel about a generation and the conflict that changed two nations.… (más)

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Esta reseña ha sido escrita por los Primeros Reseñadores de LibraryThingSUB2>.
With the fiftieth anniversary of the Tet Offensive in 2018, it is not surprising the Vietnam War is again at the forefront of people’s minds, though curiosities were raised with the release of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Sympathizer and the 10-part PBS miniseries The Vietnam War. Each offers a relatively fresh perspective: the former from the pen of a Vietnamese-American academic (Viet Thanh Nguyen) writing about a fictional double agent embedded in the States after the Fall of Saigon; the latter from a near-spotless editing booth wherein the producer (Ken Burns) includes first-hand testimony of 80-odd participants and footage from roughly 130 sources in his 1080-minute-long documentary. While the same cannot be said for Mel Smith’s NAM: The Story of a Generation – A Novel, it would be amiss for interested readers to overlook his book.

I say this in large part because of the author’s ability to evoke the out-of-control panic around the American Embassy in Saigon. Chaos had descended in April 1975, with an uncontrollable sea of people flooding through and over the gates of the compound. Many assisted U.S. efforts to keep the leader(s) of the South Vietnamese government above water and Smith wonderfully captures the “dead-man-walking”, almost-paralyzing fear Southerners felt as their Northern brethren encroached. Yet it was not only those below the DMZ who felt anguish as the wave of Viet Cong deluged the city for Smith’s love story resembles Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet, with Le Van Dat and Nu Chi featuring as star-crossed lovers inhabiting country-like versions of the feuding Montague and Capulet families. This storyline, one of two, goes back and forth between five decades and is a page-turning affair.

The American theme, which opens and closes in the late Nineties, is less engrossing though. Situated largely in America, it is not surprising that large segments of dialogue occur at a baseball match and centre around golf, but this will unsurprisingly prove off-putting for many non-American readers. Poignant and poetic turn of phrase (‘I had always thought’, says Mark, the main protagonist whose serves on a River Patrol Boat, ‘homecoming would be an enjoyable return to sanity and sanctuary’; ‘There were so many traces in the air it looked like a plague of fireflies’) underscores the brutality – many would say futility – of the scarring conflict, but not enough to escape charges of banality. Discussion of PTSD reads like non-fiction given the author’s (naval) experience in Vietnam, however, and acts as a remedy for questionable period speech and a clichéd character.

NAM is an admirable debut, to be sure, and Smith deserves praise for giving a kind, considered voice to Vietnamese either side of the 17th parallel. Notwithstanding its obvious attraction to fans of The Sympathizer, NAM remains second best to Tatjana Soli’s The Lotus Eaters, wherein there is deeper characterisation, and a long way behind Karl Marlantes’ debut work, Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, which should be readers’ first choice for knee-deep, hair-raising exploits in the canopy-thick jungles of Vietnam. ( )
  LPR | Feb 20, 2018 |
Esta reseña ha sido escrita por los Primeros Reseñadores de LibraryThingSUB2>.
I received this book as part of LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers’ Program.

‘NAM, The Story of a Generation’ is an expansive story based on events which occurred in and around the Vietnam War, and specifically around the years of US involvement in the conflict.

The intertwined stories give background to each character and event, as well as taking us through each character’s story. In that respect it is a cleverly written, and well-researched piece of fiction. Taking into account the author’s circumstances, I suspected that at least parts of the story were semi-autobiographical, and this is confirmed in the Author’s Notes and Acknowledgements at the end of the book.

The Vietnam conflict, which western nations really never understood, has been responsible for significant ongoing issues and trauma in all the western nations which involved themselves in the ‘fight against communism’. ‘Cameron’s’ story, the basis of this work, could for example just as easily have been that of one of Australia’s ‘nashos’ (National Servicemen) who found themselves in the conflict.

Cameron is a sympathetic and likeable character, and we grow to understand his misgivings and fears, his irritation at the world after the event, and his longing for things to be ‘right’.

There is an interesting cast of characters apart from Cameron, arguably the most important of whom is Le Van Dat, a North Vietnamese villager who rises through the ranks of the Army to positions in which he feels unsuited. His is also a story well told, and it is refreshing to see a character from ‘the other side’ be so important in this type of tale.

The further I read in ‘NAM’ the more I became involved in the stories and characters, and the telling of the Fall of Saigon from Dat’s perspective was excellent, as were the battle scenes and their aftermaths.

A couple of criticisms. First, I think ‘NAM’ is too long, and could have used some pretty hefty editing, especially in the first half. Secondly, I’m not sure whether some of the slang used by characters is actually time-appropriate. It seems as if some very modern terms were being used in the 1960s. I’m happy to be told otherwise. Finally, the portrayal of Buddy as the High School newspaper editor with the gift of prophecy concerning politics and the Vietnam conflict, and then his drifting into a hippy stoner lifestyle seemed more than a bit clichéd.

All in all, I appreciated and enjoyed ‘NAM’. It is an interesting, and generally well told story of a major conflict and its consequences. ( )
  buttsy1 | Nov 20, 2017 |
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Through battle, love's heartbreak, and unbelievable loss follow the lives of three Vietnam War combatants, a North Vietnamese patriot and two untested American boys, as they deal with the legacy of their nations' tragedy. A historically accurate, riveting account of the war, its personal cost and the lingering aftermathA riveting, historically accurate tale of war's horror, impossible love, and ultimate redemption. This is the Vietnam generation's story.- - -It was the sixties. We were the baby boomers and our fathers had fought in World War II--the heroes who saved the world from tyranny. It was our obligation to serve, as they had. To duck service, was not an option; not if you believed in life in America, the American way, and family values.- - -"No, Cam...I'm right about Vietnam and World War II," he said, pointing the two fingers holding his cigarette at me like darts. "You'd better have a damn good reason to ask a man to put his life on the line 'cause there's no greater sacrifice he can make. Our fathers had Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo to fight...some of the biggest evil the world has ever known. They really were fighting for freedom and our way of life. Losing wasn't an option."What did we have'... Huh? What the fu** did we have to fight for? Not a goddamn thing We went because we were Americans...because we were asked by our country to go...young men always have been. So we went...and we died. That's bravery and sacrifice above and beyond the call, my friend. Dyin' for nothin'...that's a hell of a thing to ask of a man."- - -In his debut novel, Mel Smith immerses you into the lives of both American and Vietnam--civilian and combatant. NAM The Story of a Generation, is a story about the Americans who fought in the war and those who opposed it; it is a story of the emotional drive of the civilians and soldiers of North and South Vietnam who fought to free a nation.An epic novel about a generation and the conflict that changed two nations.

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