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Of Rice and Men: A Novel of Vietnam Hardcover – January 31, 2006


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A comic novel about the Vietnam War? Has that much time passed? In fact, this is not the first, but as Vietnam novels go, it's pretty funny. Guy Lopaca arrives in Vietnam fresh out of the elite Army Language School and is assigned to work for civil affairs, units set up to win hearts and minds by providing technical help to villagers. Guy quickly realizes the language he learned from American Ph.D.s bears no resemblance to any spoken in Vietnam, and much of the book recounts his slapstick efforts at communication. Of the 73 episodic chapters, 60 or so feature Guy; other POV draftees include ex-business student Paul Gianelli and aspiring academic Arthur Grissom. To his credit, Galli, a former lawyer and civil affairs interpreter in Vietnam who was a member of GIs for Peace, makes cultural misunderstanding a two-way street. And despite the humor, few characters are comic clichés: no officer is more than mildly incompetent; enlisted men yearn for home but do their jobs, more or less. The war is horrible, but occurs mostly out of sight. This is a clever, quirky, surprisingly uncynical view of Vietnam. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Nearly 35 years after his return from the Vietnam War, Galli has written an unusual, affecting first novel drawn from his experiences there. Of Rice and Men is the story of a group of remfs ("rear-echelon m*f*s") stationed at a base along Vietnam's south central coast. Guy Lopaca is a translater (as was the author on his tour of duty) who discovers on his arrival that he speaks not a word of Vietnamese: "like trying to translate fireworks on the Fourth of July." His company, along with providing support to frontline troops, has been assigned to win Vietnamese hearts and minds by "helping" local farmers grow rice and peanuts. More a series of vignettes than a narrative, the novel unfolds with beguiling tenderness, humor, and wisdom as it follows the efforts of GIs and locals to make sense of one another and of the nightmare in which they've all found themselves. "I didn't want to take you where you've been before," the author explains to readers in his afterword. "I wanted to take you to a quieter place." In this singular addition to the Vietnam War collection, Galli has. Alan Moores
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Presidio Press; First Edition edition (January 31, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0891418857
  • ISBN-13: 978-0891418856
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,306,505 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Paul J. Giannone on March 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Of Rice and Men

Richard Galli's novel, "OF Rice and Men" is the MASH of Vietnam - humorous, sensitive, poignant and serious. You take a group of college educated men, some with Peace Corps experience, you draft them in the Army and place them in the same platoon in Vietnam and give them an impossible humanitarian mission. The consequences become Galli journey through the "heart's and minds" rear area battlefield of Vietnam.

The story to me is more personal than distant, more fact rather than fiction for the character Paul Gianelli was modeled after me and my two tours with this unit. As our brothers in arms died in the rice fields our small group tried to bring peace and development to the civilians that were caught up in the daily horror of surviving in Vietnam. Like Iraq today, the civilians seemed to be in the way of "our" war and both sides had no problem murdering the innocent. Galli's words give no images of battle hardened American soldiers attacking jungle fortifications but it gives a good look at what little American soldiers were dying for in Vietnam. As our foreign policy tried to "bomb" democracy into Vietnam with a strategy of "destroying villages in order to save them" many of us working at village level realized that America would never be victorious if our actions betrayed our own US Constitution and Bill of Rights.

This is a critical must read book for those not only interested in the history of Vietnam but in the history of why we fail so often in our foreign policy. It should be a text for all military in "Civil Affairs" operations. For the current history student the parallels to what is currently happening in Iraq are too clear. Today Civil Affairs has increased importance in Iraq.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Steven C. Rosen on February 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is a big book - big emotions, big characters, big stories. It is the paper trail tale of war, the non-combat troops who fought the battles of civil affairs, soldiers ordered to engage the indigeneous Vietnamese and teach them how to grow rice and build permanent structures. In Of Rice And Men, author Galli focues on the remf's - the rear echelon mother fu--ckers as they were so designated by the grunt on the line - who were forced to venture out into the hills and paddy fields without weapons, without support, and daily put their lives on the line.

This is a gloriously dramatic book in the fashion of Catch-22 and Tim O'Brien's best works, a shining light on the stupidity, savagery, and sometime sweetness of the Vietnam War.

The author was there and it is in these pages. Beautiful prose and deadly accurate.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John A. Burris Jr. on March 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover
There is not one wrong word in this bitter-sweet but humorous account of the war in Vietnam.

Richard Galli may have found his Vietnamese language skills lacking, but his heart and compassion, his bravery and committment to duty never failed him.

For me, also a translator-interpreter in Vietnam, assigned to another platoon of the same Civil Affairs Company Richard served in the year after he went home, everything rings exactly dead-on.

I knew the same people he knew (with the possible exception of the Virgin Mary), so it seems, or their replacements. The circumstances and situations had not changed during my time. I am so grateful he has captured the lighter moments amongst both the Americans and the Vietnamese and Montagnards with whom we worked. The horrors and tragedies of that war have been well-documented; the lighter moments, hardly at all.

Even with the overwash of humor, the underlying futilty and horror still resonate. Galli has done an amazing job.

Everyone, Vietnam vet or not, should read this book. I hope it evolves into the MASH of Vietnam.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By William M. Hoyler on March 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
We had our "Naked and the Dead" with "Better times than These",

our "Guadalcanl Diary" with "We Were Soldiers Once and Young".

Now we've finally got our very own "Catch-22" with "Of Rice and Men". It's a very funny and insightful story of one man and his

tour of duty as a translater with a civil affairs unit up in Hue City. Well at least the central character, Guy Lopaca, thought he was a translater till his CO has him delivering "Miracle Rice" that the 'Yards don't want to plant nor grow because it tastes awful so they end up selling it to the NVA. The story illustrates the stupidity of the military with bewildered humor and the futility of trying to make sense of why we were there to begin with. There's even a Christmas Carol:

"Jingle Bells, Mortar Shells.

VC in the grass,

take your Merry Christmas

and stick it up your ass". If you were there get this book and read it...hell, get it and read it even if you weren't there. You won't be disappointed.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By James N Simpson TOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Most Vietnam novels and movies focus on the bloody battles between the soldiers of both sides. Of Rice and Men is the story of the other army personnel who actually outnumbered the combat troops by a large number but also risked their lives daily for a cause they didn't understand any more than the combat soldiers did. This fictional story follows the lives of a few of these men and women in a traditional war time told story mixed in with a mild Carl Hiaasen type surrealness in its characters, which lightens the tale and allows the reader to laugh at a situation where death can come to those there at any minute. An interesting and informative read that makes you think about aspects of the war, we've never really been told about before.
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