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Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien

By Alix Wilber

"In October, near the end of the month, Cacciato left the war."

In Tim O'Brien's novel Going After Cacciato the theater of war becomes the theater of the absurd as a private deserts his post in Vietnam, intent on walking 8,000 miles to Paris for the peace talks. The remaining members of his squad are sent after him, but what happens then is anybody's guess: "The facts were simple: They went after Cacciato, they chased him into the mountains, they tried hard. They cornered him on a small grassy hill. They surrounded the hill. They waited through the night. And at dawn they shot the sky full of flares and then they moved in.... That was the end of it. The last known fact. What remained were possibilities."

It is these possibilities that make O'Brien's National Book Award-winning novel so extraordinary. Told from the perspective of squad member Paul Berlin, the search for Cacciato soon enters the realm of the surreal as the men find themselves following an elusive trail of chocolate M&M's through the jungles of Indochina, across India, Iran, Greece, and Yugoslavia to the streets of Paris. The details of this hallucinatory journey alternate with feverish memories of the war--men maimed by landmines, killed in tunnels, engaged in casual acts of brutality that would be unthinkable anywhere else. Reminiscent of Joseph Heller's Catch-22, Going After Cacciato dishes up a brilliant mix of ferocious comedy and bleak horror that serves to illuminate both the complex psychology of men in battle and the overarching insanity of war.

 

 

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"The novel is not absurd or surreal. The journey to Paris is not hallucinatory or dreamt. The book, in fact, is very very different from Catch-22. It shows the deliberate, careful working out of an idea. The novel is not even about Vietnam so much as it is about the power of the human imagination to overcome atrocity. Paul Berlin's carefully constructed journey to Paris is his attempt to work out a happy ending to a terrible situation. O'Brien suggests that the only way we can change an unbearable present is to imagine a better future for ourselves. Paul Berlin ultimately fails to do this. Like O'Brien's later book, The Things They Carried, Cacciato is about art, about storytelling, more than it is about war itself."

--Anonymous

"In thirty-five years of reading there have been exactly four books that I have travelled across the room to deposit in the trash. The hundreds of others remain stacked around my house.

"Going after Cacciato" is one of those four. Neither fish nor fowl, it is simply one of the worst books ever written, and I can only attribute its stack of praises to critics who don't wish to appear too "unhip" to get it (a literary case of "The Emperor's New Clothes").

If you want any insight into the Viet Nam war, see "A Rumor of War" by Philip Caputo or James Webb's "Fields of Fire" ."

--Anonymous


 

NOVEL IDEAS

Author: Tim O'Brien

Released: 1977?

Awards: National Book Award

Availability: Paperback

Annotation: Going After Cacciato captures the peculiar blend of horror and hallucinatory comedy that marked the Vietnam War.


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