"A few years ago," Stewart O'Nan, editor of The Vietnam Reader, writes in his introduction, "when I began teaching the American literature of the Vietnam War, I tried to find an anthology my students could use.... But as I searched through libraries and catalogues, new- and used-book shops, I discovered there wasn't one." So O'Nan set out to create one himself. What began as course material has grown into a remarkable collection of writing that will appeal to a broad audience of readers interested in the Vietnam experience. O'Nan includes a little bit of everything--fiction and nonfiction from acclaimed writers such as Tim O'Brien, Louise Erdrich, Michael Herr, and David Halberstam; poetry and drama by Michael Casey and David Rabe; even songs such as Barry Sadler's "The Ballad of the Green Berets" and Credence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son." There are also essays on the major Vietnam films, from The Deer Hunter to Full Metal Jacket, and a smattering of famous photographs from the war.
What makes this collection extraordinary is not just the quality of the writing it contains but also the breadth of attitudes O'Nan represents. For instance, he juxtaposes an excerpt from Ron Kovic's antiwar memoir, Born of the Fourth of July with James Webb's gung-ho paean to fighting the good fight in Fields of Fire. Chapters of Tim O'Brien's hallucinatory fiction Going After Cacciato resonate with excerpts from his earlier memoir If I D ie in a Combat Zone as well the journalism of Michael Herr (Dispatches) and Philip Caputo (A Rumor of War). Creating sections such as "Early Work," "The Oral History Boom," "Memoirs," "Homecoming," and more, O'Nan seeks to convey as much of the war experience from as many different perspectives as possible. Anyone interested in history and in fine writing will find The Vietnam Reader worthy reading. --Alix Wilber
An in-depth look at the conflict.