A deeply-felt, brilliantly written comedy about…the Vietnam War.
This debut novel from Galli (Rescuing Jeffrey, 2000) centers on a pair of protagonists: both in their early 20’s, both well educated and both scared silly when, coincidentally, they arrive in Vietnam on the same plane. Guy Lopaca has gone through the Army’s Defense Language Institute and qualified as an interpreter, though, as he soon discovers, his on-the-scene fluency rating hovers between negligible and nil. Twanging, cacophonic Vietnamese “was, to him, like trying to translate fireworks on the Fourth of July.” Arthur Grissom, attached to the 23rd Radio Research Battalion as a company clerk, is as safely distanced as Guy. After landing, the two men never again connect, but their stories unfold in a series of sharply etched (mostly hilarious) vignettes that are not dissimilar. Because the men themselves are rather like two sides of the same coin—sensitive, observant and, while deeply grateful for the cushiness of their assignments, vulnerable to attacks of survivor’s guilt whenever the real war rears back, rattling their consciousness. Which it does not infrequently, since Galli fully understands that good comic novels can’t exist without some sort of tragic relief.
Very funny novel that misses few opportunities, but one that is invariably respectful, compassionate and often downright admiring toward its cast of clowns.