Review by: KEN KORCZAK
This is a short, intense and gripping novel that holds the reader in a state of tension almost from first page to last, and that tension is released by a masterfully-handled description of a bloody firefight in the steaming jungles of Vietnam.
The book succeeds because the author captures the reality of war by showing us what it truly is — a frightening combination of intense boredom and endless fatigue punctuated by horrific moments of frenetic combat in which men are shot, stabbed, wounded, bleed and die.
It tells the story of a U.S. Army infantry corporal leading his men on patrols in the steamy jungles of Vietnam in an area near the Cambodian border. The area is infested with the enemy; the U.S. soldiers, some barely more than boys out of high school, are playing a constant game of kill or be killed. They are in a frightening foreign, alien environment that are the nightmarish jungles of South East Asia.
All the gloves are off – this is a bitter fight where the only goal is to see which side can kill or maim as many as possible on the other side.
It’s takes a remarkable amount of writing skill to capture the brutal reality that was the desperate fight in Vietnam. Author ALLEN TIFFANY does everything a writer can do right to place his readers inside the story — to tell a story — to create characters, set a scene, build a plot and impart a theme.
The writing is tight, without a wasted word. Each sentence is no-nonsense, clean and lean. What’s truly amazing is that the author manages to introduce us to five characters and brings each one of them to life as believable figures we quickly get to know – and thus we care about them and feel empathy for their dire situation.
Great writing is also about illuminating small details – the nitty-gritty aspects of just getting by – such a filling a canteen from a muddy stream and dousing it with iodine tablets — a soldier curled up in his poncho sleeping in the mud – or showing us how a knife blade can be too wide to penetrate the brain if you stab a man in the eye.
Best of all, the author understands that if you tell a story, and tell it well, all the rest takes care of itself. That is, you don’t have to get on a soapbox to rant and rave about whether you think the Vietnam War was right or wrong.
There’s no lecturing or bland moralizing. Yes, there’s a sense of guilt, regret, confusion and horror – of doing one’s duty for one’s country — but all of this falls out naturally by illustrating a situation thrust upon innocent American young men by the ever-so-wise “Powers That Be.”
YOUTH IN ASIA is more than just a short, punchy war novel – it’s great literature.
Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS
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