An ex-grunt's probing, painful account of coming of age in the hellfire of Vietnam. When he was drafted in 1968, Russell was more boy than man, and a fatherless boy to boot—his dad had killed himself years before. How the author amended the ``incompleteness of being that comes from growing up in a fatherless home'' is, though rarely stated, the theme of this brutal yet considered account, which spans his weeks in basic training through his year in Vietnam and his return home. The heart of Russell's story lies in his experiences with ``Suicide Charlie,'' a front-line unit that gained its nickname from its steady decimation by enemy fire. Russell writes of his trials in two ways: straight reportage that stares down suffering with cool, precise prose (``Cooked bodies do strange things. Rip open, split at the seams, detach at the joints'') and, interspersed throughout, more impressionistic, italicized passages that sometimes veer into purple (``Overhead, the surface of Mole City [an outpost of trenches dug deep in-country] is alive with devils. Flashes of light dance along...creating ghostly images that flail as if in the throes of death, or labor''). The narrative climaxes twice: on the terrible night that Mole City is overrun by NVA forces, and on the day that Russell locks eyes with a Vietnamese boy—Vietcong?—and sees their common humanity. From these tests of will and compassion, the author learns to respect his NVA enemies (``the toughest little soldiers that God ever created'') and to realize that his real job isn't to win the war but to survive. Yet when offered a transfer, Russell sticks with Suicide Charlie, recognizing that loyalty is one value that makes life worth living. And so he grows to be a man and, later, to be a father to his own son, Shannon. Among the more memorable of Vietnam reminiscences, at times as piercing as a splinter in the soul.

Pub Date: May 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-275-94521-9

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1993

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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