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If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home (1973)

de Tim O'Brien

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1,3962713,291 (3.86)39
O'Brien's searing memoir of his years as a soldier in Vietnam takes readers with him through the ghostly ambiguities of manhood and morality in a war gone terribly wrong.

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Tim O’Brien’s memoir about his experiences in Vietnam. O’Brien had graduated college and was not a supporter of the war. He considered going to Canada or even deserting, but eventually decided to go through with it. The reader is privy to his thought processes as he makes these difficult decisions. This book vividly describes one soldier’s tour of duty in sufficient detail to give the reader an excellent idea of what it was like to serve in Vietnam. He brings in elements of philosophy and discusses what it was like to be in the midst of another country’s civil war. It was interesting reading this book after I had already read The Things They Carried. One is fiction; one is non-fiction, but there are many obvious parallels. I count myself as a fan of Tim O’Brien’s writing and highly recommend both books. ( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
O'Brien's language and simplistic stylistics created a deep, rich plot line made the characters and scenes come alive. The detail in the scenes and emotions displayed by the characters--I almost forgot that this book is fiction--not nonfiction. O'Brien's observations of Vietnam and life drew me in. I would read this book again and again. ( )
  randaknight | Jan 2, 2022 |
A capable war memoir from a capable writer. However, Tim O'Brien has been underwhelming for me, relative to his reputation, in the two books of his I have now read. If I Die in a Combat Zone, his conventional Vietnam memoir, lacks the occasional skilful turn that elevates his later book The Things They Carried. O'Brien is fine at delivering his war stories, but it is all rather routine. His attempts at literary flourishes – comments on Hemingway, Plato, courage and war, which drew me to the book – don't dig as deep as they ought. The only one that did was the link between draft-dodgers and Socrates on page 28 – aside from this, and a few of the details in some of the war stories, there is little to recommend If I Die in a Combat Zone in the crowded Vietnam-war-memoir genre. ( )
1 vote MikeFutcher | Oct 13, 2021 |
Gripping and Intense
In this memoir Tim O'Brien recounts the testing of his moral principles and the continuing broadening of his understanding of the concepts of courage and bravery. The author successfully presents the reader with compelling insights into the moral dilemmas encountered by a young man dealing with the entirety of serving as an American soldier in Vietnam, including, the draft, the expectations of family and a small mid-western town versus his views on being a part to an immoral war. Throughout the book he struggles with what it means to be courageous and brave. Mr. O'Brien imposes the time line of his experience over these struggles with his internal demons, and sets those struggles against real combat and real casualties. He captures the daily tedium, punctuated by brief episodes of terror with the matter-of-fact style of Solzhenitsyn's "One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich." He is skillful in capturing the reader in the milieu of complex ethical uncertainties and the brutality that was the Vietnam War. This is apparent by Chapter 10, where he rocks the reader back on his heals with a very direct and simply-written two-page chapter.
Though it was written by a 21-year-old, this book may be the seminal Vietnam Era corollary of Stephen Crane's "The Red Badge of Courage," written when Crane was 24.

Chip Auger - 7th Marines, RSVN 1967-68 ( )
  Chipa | Apr 2, 2021 |
Emotionally Honest, If a Bit Pretentious

O'Brien's writing is so clear and interesting that I read through this book in three sittings. It is easy to read and easy to understand.

The biggest thing that I took from this book is the realistic portrayal of soldiers and their actions. The different people who went through O'Brien's combat life all have reasonable motivations that lead to different outcomes. Some of the people are motivated by bravery or duty or contempt or just wanting to get out alive. When conducting themselves outside of a firefight, they act realistically according to those motivations.

However, during the few times that O'Brien describes encounters with belligerents, most of the soldiers, with perhaps two exceptions, act exactly as anybody should: they get out of the way. At first, I thought this portrayal of soldiers in action was embarrassingly realistic, but there is nothing embarrassing about it. When they are in firefights, the soldiers just waited it out.

Beyond this, O'Brien is very critical of his fellow soldiers, portraying them as mostly unthoughtful, which I found to be pretentious of O'Brien. This is a theme found in his description of many of the people he met in Vietnam. O'Brien says that soldiers don't think about death or bravery. Perhaps being surrounded by death, they are simply too exhausted to share the feelings or address their fears in any meaningful way.

While I picked up on his reasons for being against the Vietnam War, I didn't think it had a huge impact on the book. O'Brien did not want to go to war but I doubt that most soldiers, even volunteers, actually wanted to go to Vietnam. Those who went were motivated by a sense of duty. O'Brien never seemed to contradict this idea, even in his personal actions.

Being born after the Vietnam War, I only have an understanding of it in a historical context, but the emotions, motivations, and actions of the people O'Brien describes are realistic to me. ( )
  mvblair | Aug 9, 2020 |
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O'Brien's searing memoir of his years as a soldier in Vietnam takes readers with him through the ghostly ambiguities of manhood and morality in a war gone terribly wrong.

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