semiautobiographical historical novel tells the story of a medical doctor in
1962 drafted into the Army and assigned to a tour of duty in Vietnam.
medical intern Jay Hoyland is drafted, he’s deferred so he can finish his internship.
Then, after a few months of training, Hoyland, now a captain, is sent to Soc
Trang in Vietnam as a flight surgeon, a medic who cares for pilots and flight crews.
Doc Hoyland’s 12-month tour is filled with the same troubles that might befall
a civilian doctor—e.g., tending to a laceration or running short on both staff
and supplies—but there are always reminders that he’s in a war zone: the sound
of mortar rounds in the distance and seeing soldiers die, including some of his
friends. As the doc counts the days until he returns to the U.S., he becomes increasingly anxious,
particularly since the enemy is ramping up its fight against American troops and
the Army of the Republic
of Vietnam. The author’s
novel, though presented as a journal with dated entries, more closely resembles
a standard first-person narrative with vivid descriptions of the environment
and a good amount of dialogue. This, however, doesn’t diminish the experience
for readers; Hoyland’s arrival in Saigon is an indelible fusion of odors, like
charcoal smoke and decaying vegetation, while the excess of bugs in the monsoon
creates a “thick fog.” The narrative alternates between the journal and
correlating historical information, the latter distinguished by bold print.
Hoyland (The Palace of Versailles, 2001)—the pen name of James G. Hall,
a Vietnam vet—says in his preface that the historical segments can be ignored,
but they prove valuable, thoroughly demonstrating the enemy’s mounting strength
while generating suspense with the VC’s perspective, making it clear that VC
troops are waiting in the jungle for approaching U.S. choppers, including Hoyland’s.
The book does have its lighter moments, as when the doc organizes a Christmas
party for children at an orphanage and a leprosarium. But the greatest impact here
is the disturbing sense of danger for Hoyland when, for example, machine-gun
fire hits his chopper and he’s covered in blood and flesh that aren’t his.
officer caring for soldiers in the field distinguishes this Vietnam account, and
the fierce war setting will leave history enthusiasts content.