American soldiers battle besieging communist hordes–and their demons–in this dark Korean War story.
George Company is the kind of stalwart, unglamorous infantry unit that bore the brunt of Korea’s bloody trench fighting circa 1952. It has a steady commander in Capt. Horace Crayley, a roster of oddball old-timers and a raft of greenhorn replacements who need breaking in. It’s a small, cloistered, intensely close-knit society, and West, a Korean War vet, paints an engrossing portrait of its mores, of the squalid atmospherics of war, including the sordid sex trade carried on across an army camp’s barbed wire perimeter, and of the subtle ways in which soldiers assess the character of the comrades and leaders on whom their lives depend. Into this pressure cooker drops Lt. Ed Clare, a gung-ho officer intent on winning glory for himself no matter the cost in his men’s lives. He’s a symbol of a war that, in West’s grim telling, has lost its rationale as it slouches toward stalemate. Battles are fought to win a few more miles of territory before the armistice talks begin, to advance a general’s career or, in the infantryman’s case, simply to stay alive. All three factors combine in George Company’s next assignment–to hold a strategic outcropping called Monastery Ridge against massive Chinese attacks. When battle comes, West crafts gripping, well-observed battle scenes, contrasting the desperation and chaos of real combat with the tidy heroics of official reports, probing the fraught instant when soldiers’ paralyzing fear gives way to wild exhilaration as they discover what their weapons can do to the enemy. They can do some pretty grisly things–â€œHe pumped a round in, fired and saw one head disappear in a splendid pulpy mush”–and one pities the Chinese as they are slaughtered in heaps by American machine guns, explosives and napalm.
A gritty, psychologically acute saga of the Forgotten War.