A salacious novel camouflaged as a historically accurate dramatization of the famous Vietnam War battle.
The cover’s sepia photograph and front pages filled with maps and charts of troop strength evoke something like a straightforward military history, but the fictional overlay seems contrived to advance a jingoistic, erotic interpretation of the war. Nuance rarely intrudes; superlatives abound; repetition distracts. Ehrlich (Isolde, 1991) creates caricatures, places them in unrealistic circumstances and has them say unbelievable things. At the center of the action is Col. Richard Vortex, a Rambo-like soldier—“93 kilograms of solid, rock hard and rippling, Communist pulverizing muscle.” He and others feast, fight and philander their way through the action without much discernible character development. Plot follows the real-life battle timeline, while historical details, often parlayed in pages of speechifying, paint an unsavory portrait of war. True to life, war is hell: Amid the profanity grisly combat scenes, wartime rapes only add to the misery. However, Ehrlich sometimes gratuitously commingles sex and violence. When Vortex and his South Vietnamese girlfriend (wearing an evening gown following dinner and dancing) interrogate a Viet Cong prisoner in an underground torture chamber, they combine copulation with dismemberment: “ ‘I shall tongue kiss this boy while you mutilate his toes,’ laughed Susie Ky.” Ehrlich extends depravity to nonfictional characters, too, besmirching such historical figures as Capt. Frank C. Willoughby, who helps his South Vietnamese girlfriend castrate her father, a Viet Cong collaborator. Messianic prayers after slaughters and characters lapsing into German to reminisce about Hitler’s Wehrmacht increase dissonance. Ehrlich has clearly studied the war extensively, but unfortunately, his fiction overwhelms any scholarship.
Too much for any but the most battle-hardened readers.