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The Moral Life of Soldiers: A novel and five stories Paperback – February 26, 2013


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 270 pages
  • Publisher: Black Heron Press; 1 edition (February 26, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1936364026
  • ISBN-13: 978-1936364022
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,319,227 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

“Life, Paul has learned, proceeds by indirection.” Paul is one of two protagonists in this spare, elliptical collection. Paul’s moral education is presented in a series of often disjointed events from his youth, sketchily remembered in middle age. They touch on his reactions to life in the segregated South of the 1950s and his sometimes chaotic adolescence in southern California, which culminates in his desire to become very big and very tough. The second protagonist is an elderly man who served in the South Vietnamese Army, was trained by the U.S. Army, and ultimately switched sides and fought for the North. His tale is more linear than Paul’s, but it focuses almost entirely on his time in a remote Panamanian village with a handful of U.S. Special Forces sergeants. The men seem to have no duties, until they begin to be sent to Vietnam; in time, the narrator returns as well. Gold, whose Sergeant Dickinson (1999) focused on the savage reality of combat, eschews it almost entirely in this book. Here, he’s proceeding by indirection. --Thomas Gaughan

Review

This introspective...collection, made up of four stories, a novella, and a short novel, comes from Gold (Sergeant Dickinson), who served in Vietnam with the Special Forces. The novella, "Paul's Father," introduces Paul Donaldson, who appears throughout the collection. During the 1950s, Paul's father Herb moves his family from Chicago to segregated Georgia. After trying to buy a car for his black cook, Herb is run out of town. The family relocates to California and Paul never forgives his father for refusing to stand up for himself, setting the stage for the rest of the collection. The short story quartet fleshes out Paul's adolescence in the California desert, where he gets into fights with a motorcycle gang and falls in love for the first time. In the eponymous short novel, an unnamed Vietnamese army veteran writes his memoir, relating, in a detached voice, how he entered South Vietnam's military and, through the officers exchange program, befriended Paul in Panama before he shipped off to Vietnam. Returning home, the officer joined the National Liberation Front, taking up arms against his old American army pals. Concerned with the "moral ambiguity" of soldiers, the collection delves into the muddled experiences and allegiances of life during wartime. --Publishers Weekly

"Life, Paul has learned, proceeds by indirection." Paul is one of two protagonists in this spare, elliptical collection. Paul's moral education is presented in a series of often disjointed events from his youth, sketchily remembered in middle age. They touch on is reactions to life in the segregated South of the 1950s and his sometimes chaotic adolescence in southern California, which culminates in his desire to become very big and very tough. The second protagonist is an elderly man who served in the South Vietnamese Army, was trained by the U.S. Army, and ultimately switched sides and fought for the North. His tale is more linear than Paul's, it focuses almost entirely on his time in a remote Panamanian village with a handful of U.S. Special Forces sergeants. The men seem to have no duties, until they begin to be sent to Vietnam; in time, the narrator returns as well. Gold, whose Sergeant Dickinson (1999) focused on the savage reality of combat, eschews it almost entirely in this book. Here, he's proceeding by indirection. --Booklist

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Format: Paperback
Gold, a former Green Beret officer who fought in Vietnam, is the author of Sergeant Dickinson, one of the finest novels to emerge from the war. The Moral Life of Soldiers comes at the conflict from another direction. It’s a collection of stories about soldiers that may or may not explain why they volunteered for a war of opaque purposes. Although deep questions are explored, no one acts or speaks in platitudes. There is Paul, a tough American kid, who, shamed by what he considered a cowardly act by his father, charges forth in an entirely different direction. Another protagonist, a former North Vietnamese Army officer, was trained by Americans before he switched sides. Some of the training sequences depict what can only be described as institutional insanity -- war games that involve hardship, suffering, even torture, yet no one cries uncle. It’s rough stuff. These characters would make quick work of Tarantino’s fairy-tale tough guys. And none of what they do is in any way related to what governments have to say about why they went to war. Maybe these guys fought in Vietnam because it was the only war they had.
A literary sensibility reigns. Characters think they mean what they say, but if we follow the clues we might reach different conclusions. And we could easily change our minds over time. Gold doesn't insult us with pat answers. Instead he honors us by sharing these questions.
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