“Long Daze at Long Binh” by Steve Donovan and Fred Borchardt

This book is not your usual memoir, either in form or in substance. Instead of a narrative, the writing mimics the dynamics of two guys sitting around trading tales. One starts a story, the other picks it up, then the first takes it back and so on. A kind of narrative ping-pong.

It works relatively well if you approach the experience more as a series of short stories rather than a novel. There is no huge build, no overarching conflict (besides the war, of course). The tales are big on small details about the Viet Nam war, and low on emotional content or suspense. After all, we already know that the two authors made it home!

Some of the stories are touching, many are funny, and some are just interesting from a microcosmic historical point of view. All the way from dealing with the locals to meeting film stars on tour. There is a fair amount of rather juvenile and very innocent sexual humour, as you would expect from the age of the participants and the era in which they lived.

The format includes a “Humour in Uniform” joke at the end of every chapter, many of them old regulars twisted into a military setting. Another writing trick used often is the “leading question.” As in “So what did you do then, Fred?” and “Didn’t you have a problem with that guy later, Steve?” Due to the episodic nature of the tales and the lack of suspense, it’s not a book you read at one sitting. Especially since it approaches 400 pages. If I had any preference, I think a few of the incidents could have been cut, and a bit more narrative connection between the main stories would have helped build continuity.

Since one of the authors is a journalist, the writing is smooth and professional, which makes this an easy read.  A low-key but fascinating picture of a historical event.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

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