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If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home Paperback – September 1, 1999


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If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home + Going After Cacciato + The Things They Carried
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (September 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767904435
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767904438
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (111 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,939 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Over time, Tim O'Brien has used both art and artifice to shape his fictional accounts of Vietnam. Award-winning novels such as Going After Cacciato and The Things They Carried offer up a surreal view of the war: a soldier who decides to walk to Paris, leaving only a trail of M&M's in his wake; a young man who imports his high-school girlfriend to his base camp high in the jungled mountains, only to lose her to a shadowy squad of Special Forces Green Berets and to "that mix of unnamed terror and unnamed pleasure" that was Vietnam. O'Brien's first account of the war, however, was written in the raw, unfiltered months following his return from Southeast Asia in 1969. If I Die in a Combat Zone has all of the eloquence and attention to language and detail that are a mark of the author's work; what is different about it is its straightforward, unembellished depiction of his personal experience of hell.

"When you are ordered to march through areas such as Pinkville--GI slang for Song My, parent village of My Lai ... you do some thinking. You hallucinate. You look ahead a few paces and wonder what your legs will resemble if there is more to the earth in that spot than silicates and nitrogen. Will the pain be unbearable? Will you scream or fall silent? Will you be afraid to look at your own body, afraid of the sight of your own red flesh and white bone? You wonder if the medic remembered his morphine."

O'Brien paints an unvarnished portrait of the infantry soldier's life that is at once mundane and terrifying--the endless days of patrolling punctuated by firefights that end as suddenly and inconclusively as they begin; the mind-numbing brutality of burned villages and trampled rice patties; the terror of tunnels, minefields, and the ever-present threat of death. Powerful as these scenes are, perhaps the most memorable chapter in the book concerns his decision to desert just a few weeks before he was sent to Vietnam. "The AWOL bag was ready to go, but I wasn't.... I burned the letters to my family. I read the others and burned them, too. It was over. I simply couldn't bring myself to flee. Family, the home town, friends, history, tradition, fear, confusion, exile: I could not run." Tim O'Brien went into the war opposing it and came out knowing exactly why. If I Die in a Combat Zone is more than just a memoir of a disastrous war; it is also a meditation on heroism and cowardice, on the mutability of truth and morality in a war zone and, most of all, on the simple, human capacity to endure the unendurable. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"O'Brien brilliantly and quietly evokes the foot soldier's daily life in the paddies and foxholes, evokes a blind, blundering war. . . . Tim O'Brien writes with the care and eloquence of someone for whom communication is still a vital possibility. . . . A personal document of aching clarity. . . . A beautiful, painful book."
The New York Times Book Review

"One of the best, most disturbing, and most powerful books about the shame that was / is Vietnam."
Minneapolis Star and Tribune

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

Tim O'Brien is an extraordinarily talented writer.
Jana L. Perskie
If, you can only read one book a year, then I suggest you read this one!
Joseph R. Calamia
I'm not a big fan of Tim O'Brien's writing: It's a stylistic thing.
Zendicant Pangolin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Jana L. Perskie HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 20, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Tim O'Brien is an extraordinarily talented writer. This painful and disturbing memoir of his year as a foot soldier in Vietnam, is a vivid and heartfelt chronicle.
O'Brien "grew out of one war and into another." He is the son of a WWII soldier, "who fought the great campaign against the tyrants of the 1940s." His mother served in the WAVES. Drafted in the summer of 1968, "Nam-bound," O'Brien thought the war was "wrongly conceived and poorly justified," and seriously planned to escape to Canada, or to Sweden. However, his entire history of life on the American prairie, the values instilled in him by parents and teachers, pulled him in another direction. In the end, he submitted. "It was an intellectual and physical standoff, and I did not have the energy to see it to an end. I did not want to be a soldier, not even an observer to war. But neither did I want to upset a peculiar balance between the order I knew, the people I knew, and my own private world. It was not just that I valued that order. I also feared its opposite - inevitable chaos, censure, embarrassment, the end of everything that had happened in my life, the end of it all." Thus, he articulates, so well, the reasons that many of my generation, far less eloquent than he, went silently off to fight a war they did not believe in - and too many never returned.
As a woman from the "Vietnam generation," this book was very painful to read. Yet, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I was still a girl, in so many ways, when Tim O'Brien landed in Vietnam. And he, and our peers, were still boys. I will always feel wonder at their courage - even if they did not feel particularly courageous. How did the regular guys I graduated school with, manage to shoot and be shot at?
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By booknblueslady on January 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
A thinking man in Vietnam was a dangerous thing. Being a soldier in Vietnam was a dangerous thing. Tim O'Brien was both and somehow he managed to live to survive it and tell his story. He ends up in Vietnam after unsuccessfully dealing with his conflict between doing the right thing and being a courageous man. He tells of his decision not to follow his well planned escape route and stay with his country and its proposal to send him to Viet Nam. O'Brien describes Vietnam as a place with nameless soldiers and Buddys, faceless enemies and endless minefields.
This is an excellent text for learning about the experience of the Vietnam war, the choices that young man were faced with at that time and basic dilemmas in making moral decisions. It is a well written book which makes for a quick, satisfying read.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Jeff on March 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent piece of literature. O'Brien is at his finest as he transcribes his experiences during the vietnam war. If you read "The Things They Carried" (which he wrote after this) you'll definately love this book. It's also interesting to observe some of the similarities to the characters in this memoir to those in The Things They Carried. It's exceptional, honestly. You wont be disappointed.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Grunt68 on January 5, 2004
Format: Paperback
As a Marine grunt(1968) In Vietnam, the book basically gives a good view into daily 'NAM' LIFE. Other reviewers gave a low rating thru their WELL-> READ knowledge of the war. There is a old Vietnam unwritten code "if you were not there, then you have no idea what happened or should not judge the ones who were. Vietnam vets don't talk about our experiences over there because there is no way a civilian could comprehend what we endured". The war was a horrible, minute by minute effort to stay alive but also a duty to protect your fellow marines , your fellow marines were your brothers. Read the book. Semper Fi
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By R. J. Marsella on May 24, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A vivid description of the day to day life of a grunt in the Vietnam era. O'Brien wrote honestly and at times poetically of his experience from draft day to his return home. Some of the best writing on a thinking man's reaction to combat that I've ever read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Robert Wellen on February 4, 2004
Format: Paperback
O'Brien is simply my favorite author. I was curious to read this, his first book, a memoir of his real days in country. It is without the lyrical beauty and power of some of his other fictionalized accounts of war, but as he says in How to Tell a True War Story--what exactly is real in war? This is as close one can come...a fascinating account--perhaps most interesting is the down time--the mundane aspects of war. His honesty is disarming (no pun intended), but the polished O'Brien we know and love is still developing. It is an important book and worth the time spent.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By JMack VINE VOICE on June 5, 2008
Format: Paperback
Being much more familiar with Tim O'Brien's fiction, one may not know what to expect in his memoir about his tour of duty in Vietnam. Written in the same style with a wry sense of humor, O'Brien challenges the war in a way few have.

Courage and morality are continuing themes that O'Brien explores through his actions as well as literary quotes. It is very clear that O'Brien was uncomfortable with the war even before being drafted. He even contemplates going AWOL. In a paradox, he lacks the courage to go to war or escape going to war. Nothing is more powerful than the last chapter. Going beyond patroitism and rituals, O'Brien is numbed as he returns home. The war has left a mark that is difficult to fathom.

Tim O'Brien does not flinch at the brutality of the war nor the American soldiers. Major Callicles seems straight out of Catch 22, yet he is all too real. The cruelty to a blind civilian has the ability to disgust. While making a statement, O'Brien's writing is both enlightening and entertaining. It is a remarkable perspective on a disastrous war.
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