Hosking recounts his experiences in Vietnam and his life with post-traumatic stress disorder in this nonfiction debut.
When the author received his summons to join the Australian Military Forces at the end of 1965, his feelings were mixed, comprised of “patriotic compliance, employment relief, and emotional discontent.” Raised on tales of World War II heroism and a deep hatred of communism, his peers were eager to protect the democracy of South Vietnam from the threat of invasion from the north. Yet Hosking quickly became disillusioned by his military activities, such as seizing crops, forcibly relocating civilians, and fighting enemies who appeared to be underfed teenagers. He survived the war but returned to Australia feeling lost and empty; he proposed to his girlfriend but then called off the engagement. He watched with interest and revulsion as the Australian public turned on the war and as the counterculture swept through the United States. After Saigon fell in 1975, the author decided he needed to get away from it all: he bought a ticket to Athens, Greece, and spent months traveling through Europe, the Middle East, India, and Africa, running away from his past even as he sought to find a purer, deeper version of himself. Hosking is a natural storyteller, weaving his personal narrative through the larger historical and cultural contexts that support it. The first chapter, for example, begins with the image of Hosking as a soldier, nervously pointing his gun at a young Vietnamese farmer and wondering, “Does he have a weapon concealed under the straw?” He then offers a concise but comprehensive explanation of the origins of the conflict, replete with Australian-style color commentary (he refers to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, for example, as “two German dropkicks”), before resolving the story of the standoff between him and the villager. The globe-trotting nature of this memoir sets it apart from the familiar there-and-back-again structure of American experiences in Vietnam. Seeing the war through the eyes of an Australian conscript, who then travels widely on a semiredemptive pilgrimage, puts the struggles of Vietnam and PTSD in a different light for American readers.
A memoir with a colorful, empathetic voice.