Whether he is evoking the blind carnage of the Tet offensive, the theatrics of his fellow Americans, or the unraveling of his own illusions, Wolff brings to this work the same uncanny eye for detail, pitiless candor and mordant wit that made This Boy's Life a modern classic.
As a Vietnamese-speaking U.S. Army adviser to a Vietnamese division in the Mekong Delta, First Lieutenant Wolff began his 1967-1968 tour of duty convinced of America's noble purposes; yet this intense, precisely observed memoir records his sense of futility and growing disillusionment with the war. His searing recollections underscore the inhumanity on both sides and the paternalistic, condescending attitude of American military personnel toward the Vietnamese people. Wolff (This Boy's Life), who teaches literature at Syracuse University, is a remarkably gifted writer, and in this war memoir he charts with great candor his evolution as a human being and a writer. Through flashbacks we learn of his love-hate relationship with his father, an airplane designer turned forger and convict, and of his broken engagement to a wildly moody, emotionally troubled Russian aristocrat in Washington, D.C. Replaced in Vietnam by a more gung-ho, macho adviser, Wolff left the service and stayed in the San Francisco Bay area, where he was discharged. Then he discovered himself, and stopped feeling adrift, during four years studying English literature at Oxford University.