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Going After Cacciato Paperback – September 1, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

"In October, near the end of the month, Cacciato left the war."

In Tim O'Brien's novel Going After Cacciato the theater of war becomes the theater of the absurd as a private deserts his post in Vietnam, intent on walking 8,000 miles to Paris for the peace talks. The remaining members of his squad are sent after him, but what happens then is anybody's guess: "The facts were simple: They went after Cacciato, they chased him into the mountains, they tried hard. They cornered him on a small grassy hill. They surrounded the hill. They waited through the night. And at dawn they shot the sky full of flares and then they moved in.... That was the end of it. The last known fact. What remained were possibilities."

It is these possibilities that make O'Brien's National Book Award-winning novel so extraordinary. Told from the perspective of squad member Paul Berlin, the search for Cacciato soon enters the realm of the surreal as the men find themselves following an elusive trail of chocolate M&M's through the jungles of Indochina, across India, Iran, Greece, and Yugoslavia to the streets of Paris. The details of this hallucinatory journey alternate with feverish memories of the war--men maimed by landmines, killed in tunnels, engaged in casual acts of brutality that would be unthinkable anywhere else. Reminiscent of Joseph Heller's Catch-22, Going After Cacciato dishes up a brilliant mix of ferocious comedy and bleak horror that serves to illuminate both the complex psychology of men in battle and the overarching insanity of war. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.



"Simply put, the best novel written about the war. I do not know . . . any writer, journalist, or novelist who does not concede that position to O'Brien's Going After Cacciato."
Miami Herald

"A novel of great beauty and importance."
Boston Globe

"Stark . . . rhapsodic. . . . It is a canvas painted vividly, hauntingly, disturbingly by Tim O'Brien."
Los Angeles Times

"As a fictional portrait of this war, Going After Cacciato is hard to fault, and will be hard to better."
John Updike, The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (September 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767904427
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767904421
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (154 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,023 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

TIM O'BRIEN received the 1979 National Book Award in fiction for Going After Cacciato. His other works include the acclaimed novels The Things They Carried and July, July. In the Lake of the Woods received the James Fenimore Cooper Prize from the Society of American Historians and was named the best novel of 1994 by Time. O'Brien lives in Austin, Texas.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Dylan Wilbur on March 30, 2006
Format: Paperback
The Vietnam war continues to bring back painful memories to millions of Americans. Few artists have captured the essence of the war as accurately as Tim O'Brien. In his book, Going After Cacciato, O'Brien tells the tale of Spec Four Paul Berlin and his squad's pursuit of an AWOL soldier named Cacciato. Cacciato decided to leave the war and head for Paris...conveniently located 8,000 miles away. As the squad chases after Cacciato, O'Brien dives into Berlin's first experiences with the war, exposing the fear, courage and attitudes of everyday soldiers. While appearing humorous in nature, which it is at some points, Going After Cacciato is much more than a lighthearted adventure. It takes on the heavy subject of war and its effects on every day soldiers with an intelligent zeal and brutal truthfulness.

O'Brien structures his book in an odd manner, jumping between the chase after Cacciato and flashbacks to various "war stories" involving Berlin and his squad. While at first somewhat jarring, as he usually jumps right when some major action is occurring, eventually it makes for a more interesting and exciting read. The war stories and the Cacciato plot work well together, mixing action sequences and thoughts on war and warfare, so that every chapter (or every other chapter) is fresh material. The inclusion of the war stories also accomplishes two things: 1) It includes Vietnam in the novel, as the majority of the Cacciato sections of the book occur outside of Vietnam; and 2) It gives O'Brien a chance to explore the lessons of war, an opportunity which he takes at every turn.

The majority of the lessons learned in the "war stories" involve the death of a squad member. It's no secret that they died, in fact many of the deaths are alluded to from very early on in the book.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Eve E. on March 28, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book is the perfect blend of fiction based on a very-real factual setting for the Vietnam War and a form of 'magic realism' akin to Gabriel Garcia Marquez to tell a powerful story and make a powerful condemnation of the war. What's most impressive is that this book was written before O'Brien had cut his teeth on later more successful books like 'Things They Carried.'
Some reviewers have complained about the distortion caused by the intertwining storylines and shifts in time and focus, but they are not muddled at all and the book is very easy to maintain. This is what elevates the book beyond mere storytelling or fictionalized factual accounts. You can read other reviews for a synopsis of the story - my two-cents is that this book lives up to the hype and works to perfection. O'Brien is one of only two fiction writers still in their 'prime' so to speak and putting out books somewhat regularly that I will look for and buy (other being Phillip Roth).
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33 of 39 people found the following review helpful By on September 15, 1999
Format: Paperback
Whether or not this novel is important as a Vietnam novel seems to me to be irrelevant, or at least unimportant to me. "Going After Cacciato" is not simply an allegory of war, but also of the human instinct to join a group or cause. Cacciato represents individualism, self-interestedness, and idealism . He is, himself, and ideal or an aspiration. O'brien's novel changed the way I understand my reality. It challenged me to think outside of the group I was a member of and consider the legitmacy or appropriateness of membership. Read this book.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Lillian Finley on June 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
Although 'Going After Cacciato' owes greatly to Heller's classic WWII novel 'Catch-22,' it is a very worthwhile read in its own right. 'Cacciato' describes, simultaneously, the pursuit of an AWOL soldier interwoven with the musings of a common solider (Spec-4 Paul Berlin) during a full-night watch. Berlin imagines how the war could be escaped (by fleeing 8600 miles across Asia and Europe to Paris) as he relieves the traumas associated with casualties in his unit. O'Brien brilliantly captures the empty, purposeless fumbling of Vietnam with vignettes such as "world's greatest lake country" (crater holes filled with monsoonal rain). The sardonic and cynical humor of the men and the remorseless meaninglessness of the war are sharply contrasted with the occasionally ethereal and drug-like escape that is conducted only in possibility.
Overall, a very worthwhile read.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Justin Buehner on June 19, 2000
Format: Paperback
Tim O'Brien shows why he is one of the truly great writers of the 20th century. Going After Cacciato is a masterfully written novel that works on so many different levels. O'Brien reveals the mental strain and the incredible toll of war by showing how Paul Berlin uses the imaginary journey after Cacciato to escape the day-to-day horrors that he experiences in Vietnam and come to terms with his feelings about them. O'Brien's use of psuedo-flashbacks gives the story a decidedly surreal feel. He flawlessly weaves detailed, eloquent descriptions of the land and actions with "grunt-speak" and harsh depictions of everyday horrors. The resulting mix is quintissential O'Brien and will keep you enthralled to the end. Not just a novel for war story fans, Going After Cacciato should be read by anybody who enjoys literature.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Adam Dukovich on November 3, 2002
Format: Paperback
Of all the books that I have read on the Vietnam War, this is the only one that truly captures the mindset of insanity that makes it a worthy Vietnam testament. Going After Cacciato is an incredible novel, Tim O'Brien artfully interweaves fact and fiction, fantasy and reality, past and present, appearance and truth all so seamlessly that it seems only natural. It is a totally unique novel.
The novel is about an idealistic soldier, Cacciato, who one day decides to leave the war. He abandons his post and heads off to Paris. Then the story becomes more surreal as his squad pursues him through the streets of Mandalay and Delhi and through Kabul and Tehran as they all get closer to deliverance. Meanwhile, the protagonist, Paul Berlin, recalls how things used to be when a young lieutenant was in charge of the brigade, as well as everything from childhood to one particular night on the observation post. The plot begins to play with reality to an increasing extent, but the story remains engaging to the end.
One wonderful thing about this book is its absolute recollection of the life of a soldier. In a book like this that exposes the reader to the true life of a soldier, the details must be present and plausible, and being as O'Brien was a veteran, it is safe to assume that they are, in fact, realistic. However, his insight leads to an intense examination of the life and mindset of a soldier. The soldiers in the story talk like soldiers, but they just seem like real people with a horrible burden thrust upon their shoulders. Also, O'Brien's writing is delightful. Speaking from a purely syntactical standpoint, the way he crafts his sentences is a pleasure to read, even if it describes something horrible in Paul's life.
Although it is not strictly a war novel, the essence of the war is conveyed throughout. Required reading for anyone wanting to understand the war, or see the perfection of the craft of writing.
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