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I Don't Know But I've Been Told: A Novel Hardcover – March 26, 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers; 1st edition (March 26, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060196114
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060196110
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,413,952 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

U.S. Army paratroopers, armed with guns, drug habits, and a unique sense of patriotism, ramble on about their enlistment in I Don't Know but I've Been Told. First-time novelist Raul Correa gives us a nameless protagonist who wistfully recounts how decades earlier he was part of an invincible band of wild, peacetime soldiers, affectionately called "Recon Dogs." Bored with the routine of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the Recon Dogs (with suspiciously little thought) take over the second job of their beloved "Platoon Daddy" providing "surplus" weapons to the friendly local arms smuggler--before a stint in Panama gives the narrator his first and only love, Paola. Back stateside, a night of drinking helps the narrator see logic in tossing a grenade under a car, summarily replacing his high-flying times with a prison sentence. Now working on tugboats in New York harbor, our hollow man reveres two talismans: Paola's only letter and Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. The good times, for him, stopped long ago. Correa writes with all the macho swagger of his narrator's fun-loving, carefree past, turning in a memorable debut. --Michael Ferch

From Publishers Weekly

Swaggering yet vulnerable, like a cross between Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield, the unnamed narrator of this gritty, darkly comic debut novel joins the army at the tail end of the 1970s. Like his pals, a bunch of misfit "doper scouts," he joins to escape grinding poverty, prison, or both. Their Fort Bragg scout platoon stands in stark antithesis to the gung-ho, overachieving Special Forces teams in training. Under the loose eye of their "Platoon Daddy" the only soldier in the group with real combat experience, the mystique of which maintains his rein over his unruly charges the Recon Dogs, as they are known, enliven their days of peacetime idleness and easy drills by getting stoned as often as possible, burning their paychecks, selling plasma, even burglarizing motels to fund their binges. This leads to trouble when the Dogs are offered cash by a local "entrepreneur" looking to stockpile military ordnance. The story is told in flashbacks by the narrator, 15 years later, following a breakdown and prison sentence. What is ostensibly a story of a young man too sensitive for military life is muddled with its narrator's self-styled comparison with Huckleberry Finn, his mooning over his lost love (a Panamanian prostitute) and his complete inability to come to terms with his situation. What the novel does offer is a frank, often comical look at life in America's peacetime volunteer army; as such, it joins the ranks of stories of military screwups from time immemorial although few of those offer detailed descriptions of parachute jumps on mescaline. (Apr. 4)Forecast: Correa, who spent time in the 82nd Airborne Division, has a real-life story to rival the fictional one he tells. He will embark on a five-city author tour and should be an appealing interview prospect.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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From the first few pages to the very end, this book will grab you by the lapels and not let you go.
Laughing Wolf
The hero is simple, endearing, and likable, and the story is engrossing--at times hilarious, poignant, bittersweet, and always honest.
D. Clayton
I know , I was one of them , and I thank Raul Correa for putting it in writing to preserve these times forever !
Mark Slugocki

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By D. C. Carrad on April 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ten stars, terrific book. Want to know what enlisted life in the Army is like without leaving your comfortable armchair? Buy this and turn off the phone. Brilliant reconstruction of Army life, that alternate society that too few Americans today know. Shows the love and esprit de corps that a small unit can develop, where it comes from, and what can tear it apart. Plus the author writes prose that is as cool, clear, and swift as a flowing mountain stream. The proofreader needs to spend several months doing PT at Ft. Bragg -- parachute lines are "taut" not "taught" and it is inexcusable to have "173rd" and "1/73rd" on the same page, particularly since the 173rd plays such a major role in the book. This is the real deal; buy it at once. And special thanks to the author from this reader (US Army 1966-69, Vietnam service, 1968-69) for his treatment of the Vietnam veterans in his book -- who we really were. Airborne!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Theodore on June 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In case you never heard the Jody chant (Jody is the 4F who gets all the girls while we are off studying war ;-), "I don't know, but I've been told" ends with an unprintable, biologically improbable claim about lady Eskimoes. But that's the kind of thing that makes sense if you are doing close order drill, learning to assemble machine guns by touch, jumping out of perfectly good airplanes, etc.
Back in the Bad Old Days, Jimmy Carter had been mugged by reality, but people like Colin Powell and Norman Scwartzkopf were still doing damage control - my own nerve gas "protective suit" was made of terry cloth left over from the Korean War, and whole batalions of Marines practiced "skiing" in 102 degree sun using barrel staves on sand, the better to deploy in Norway against an Evil Empire with better weapons and maybe a 4-1 numerical superiority.
Correa has the voices and conversations dead-on right.
His narrator inherits a copy of Huck Finn in boot camp, and the narrator's voice has Huck's matter-of-fact, simple eloquence, whether he describes a stick jumping out of an airplane, C rations, a racist thug builing a private army or running field problems with Reservists. The reader reading as he lives and writes should intrigue post-moderns without obscuring a good read for the rest of us.
Without giving away details that surprise, delight and perhaps horrify, imagine Huck - physically and perhaps sexually abused by an alcoholic, violent, racist thug who likely murdered Huck's mother - raised in US poverty, AFDC, government cheese, foster care, group homes and a family struggling with drugs and all the other sad, terrible "social problems," amid all the excluded or marginalized racial and other minorities.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Reader on February 14, 2006
Format: Paperback
Finding completely overlooked gems in the back of some bookstore stack wedged between mainstream marketing fair is a true delight. I thought I had stumbled across such a gem in 'I Don't Know'. Unfortunately, the story just wouldn't grab me, in spite of some excellent elements. Mr. Correa's prose for one. Correa's obviously a gifted writer, but the story here, told through a series of seemingly random flashbacks, feels disjointed and meandering and without purpose. I felt at times the story was nothing else but an elaborate writing exercise and these slapped together to form a book. Mr. Correa is a 'writing-school' product, and as with other such efforts, it seems the writing programs place so much emphasis on polishing and shaving texts the authors seem to forget the original emotion that drove them to write in the first place, and all that's left is the craft and prose, and the story is quietly murdered in the process. This is the sense I get with 'I Don't Know'. While the language is powerful and truthful, I feel all emotion has been squeezed from the product and what's left is a finely crafted collection of writings. I might return to it in the future and give it another shot. Until then... I don't know.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By susan crowley on April 3, 2002
Format: Hardcover
A remarkable and earthy narrative in the best traditions of coming of age in the world of the peacetime Army! Boy to man this story tells a tale of confusion and coming of age in a doped up and savage world of men trained to fight and kill, with no place to go but more training camps! Huck Finn as a foil, these unforgettable characters emerge as poster boys for the new generation of peacetime veterans!
I enjoyed reading this book, even if the language sometimes made me cringe.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I first picked up Correa's novel because of the review in the Wall Street Journal, which compared him to Proust. Lord, I thought, that's quite high praise, but I found this first novel beautiful, sad, sexy, and totally about memory--how it works, how it doesn't. I recommend it to not only the seasoned reader, but also to any young person struggling to make his or her way through the world. There's a lot to be learned here, beyond just a great story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By David K. Taggart on April 15, 2003
Format: Paperback
Utterly real. One of the best books ever written about the US Army; Put in on the shelf alongide Jones' FROM HERE TO ETERNITY and Crumley's ONE TO CALL CADENCE.
I DON'T KNOW BUT I'VE BEEN TOLD is a dead-on accurate picture of the Army in the bad old days of the late 70's/early 80's. Correa captures the personalities and places, and he has a great gift for language -- the dialogue is perfect.
The plot is basically a series of peacetime war stories -- a Scout platoon from the 82nd Airobrne at Fort Bragg deploys to Panama for Jungle School. The nameless narrator recounts the events years later, looking back on the various ways he has messed up his life. The whole thing is as authentic as having the goofy "pirate ship" Jungle Expert patch sewn on the right pocket of an OD-green permanent press fatigue shirt.
You have to hate how the publisher handled the book. The copy editing was obviously doen by someone with no military background (you get 1/73 and 173 Airborne in the same paragraph), and while the blurbs on the back-cover may be from heavy-hitters in the literary field, the book would have done much better if they could have gotten Nelson DeMille, Dave Hackworth, or someone like that to have given it a prod.
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