Tuesday, July 17, 2012

DISPATCHES by Michael Herr ✰✰✰

Michael Herr spent eighteen months during 1967 and 1968, including the time of the infamous Tet Offensive, in Vietnam as a correspondent for Esquire magazine.  Ten years later he published Dispatches, in an effort to go beyond the sterilized reports that the American public was allowed to see and read from the hands of the standard broadcast media.
I listened to the audio of this book, and it is excellent.  Michael Herr’s writing is very dense at times, a veritable torrent of words, coming at you in waves, cascades.  Sometimes angry and seething, sometimes poignant and gentle.  Often full of more emotion than I could absorb.  I was completely unfamiliar with Ray Porter, the narrator of Blackstone Audio’s 2009 audio version of this, but his rendering of all of the various soldiers and journalists who people Herr’s tales is very good.
Herr does not attempt to give a complete history of the war during those eighteen months, more a sketch of what life was like on the ground, living among the soldiers, in the trenches, so to speak.  Despite the fact that he was a journalist, he was the first one to admit that there were times when he was forced to both carry a gun and act as a medic.  His story was a very up-close and personal one.  This book goes well beyond the graphic language of soldiers and far into the graphic nature of warfare, and where Vietnam was concerned, that got very gritty indeed-if the graphic nature of war is off-putting to you, then this is not the book for you.  For me, that is the only reason the book did not get more stars.
Honestly, this is one of the very first books that I have read about Vietnam.  I am pathetically ill-read on the subject, but I was able to follow where the author lead, and more importantly, he led me to the people, made me care about them, and want to know more about their war.  Thanks to Michael Herr, I finally have a desire to read some of those Vietnam books that have been languishing on my TBR mountain for a very long time.  I’d also like to thank my reading friend, also coincidentally named Michael, who’s review and subsequent encouraging words convinced me that I should read this one.  Thanks, Michael!

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