This putative examination of a homeless shelter for Vietnam veterans in Boston is actually an overheated, patronizing,...


THE HOUSE OF PURPLE HEARTS: Stories of Vietnam Vets Who Find Their Way Back

This putative examination of a homeless shelter for Vietnam veterans in Boston is actually an overheated, patronizing, stereotype-strewn portrayal of the ""plight of Vietnam veterans."" In his first book, journalist Solotaroff examines the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans by looking at its founder, Ken Smith, and five severely disturbed clients. These include a suicidal, alcoholic ex-Marine who is tormented by what he did in Vietnam and is now fighting for the custody of his daughter; and an embittered, warobsessed, former Army tank commander who ""loved his tour in Vietnam"" so much that he built a military-style bunker in his basement and stayed up nights in his backyard listening for the Viet Cong. Although the unique shelter's story deserves to be told, Solotaroff is the wrong chronicler. In an attempt to pay tribute to Vietnam veterans -- for whom he once had ""contempt"" -- the author does them a great disservice by making wild generalizations based on interviews he conducted with several dozen emotionally scarred men. He claims that ""almost a million soldiers"" came back from Vietnam ""with the disastrous psychic affliction called post-traumatic stress disorder"" but neglects to mention that fewer than half that number still suffer from the disorder. In Solotaroff's world, virtually every Vietnam veteran is a hateful, wife-beating, drug- or alcohol-addicted menace to society. He describes them as ""haunted, death-hardened men, many of them carrying rapes and murders on their rap sheets"" and ""monsters of random cruelty, ruled by the edict of their hair-trigger moods."" Such men exist, but so, too, do two-and-a-half million Vietnam veterans (of the nation's 2.8 million) living ordinary lives whose biggest problems include thinning hairlines and bulging bellies. Horror stories that reinforce the Hollywood- and mass-media-created image of the screwed-up Vietnam veteran.

Pub Date: May 1, 1995


Page Count: 224

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995