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4 out of 4 stars
Review by Scerakor
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Second Lieutenant Skelley, a butter bar, starts his adventure with us the morning of the Tet offensive in Saigon. He is officially there to meet up with a supplier to get a repair part for a camera, but he finds himself running out the door to capture what photos and videos he can of the attack. On his return to his home base, he finds himself on the his Major's hit-list, and quickly lands himself the unofficial title of "SLJO" (don't worry, Mr. Stanley does an excellent job of translating military jargon for you throughout this book and for propriety's sake I'll leave this one to read yourself!) He ends up leading a roaming photo/video team that deploys all over Vietnam during the war documenting the conflict. Sometimes this means his team is in the thick of the fight, dodging bullets with the rest of the grunts, and sometimes it means they find themselves doing a mundane "day-in-the-life-of" series. Although this team is shooting pictures/videos and not (usually) an M16, this most definitely does not mean they aren't in any danger. They often find themselves rushing into oncoming danger in order to immortalize the moment on film. Besides fighting the Vietcong, 2nd Lt Skelley battles with irrational leadership, moral dilemmas, and the persistent realization that the stories everyone hears back home never reflect the actual war these heroes are fighting. During his tour, 2nd Lt Skelley learns not only how to track how long he's been in theatre by when his bouts of diarrhoea from the malaria pills arrive, but also what it means to be a real leader. This book will make you laugh at some of the absurdities of war in one chapter, then leave your jaw dropping due to its atrocities in the next.
I loved the frank, no-nonsense way that this book was written. War is horrible, but it is also a way of life and a significant part of our history. Jack R. Stanley is able to tell a first rate war story, where the fire fights and battles are not the central theme, and still keep the reader coming back chapter after chapter. One moment he can tell a humorous tale of having to empty out the porta-potties in order to burn excrement, and the next about a fellow soldier being killed by a booby trap. He expertly conveys that both situations make up the totality of war. What I liked the best about this book is how you came away with a better understanding of the Vietnam war and those that fought in the conflict. Without feeling like I was learning, I gained a greater knowledge of where the major offensives took place, what equipment the U.S. used (and how), and some of the struggles the deployed members faced. It was an added bonus that I'm a photography nerd and this book was centred around imaging this war.
The only thing bad I have to bring to the table is that it is still full of spelling and grammatical mistakes. These will likely be taken care of through rigorous final editing, but it was enough to force me to stop and re-read some passages to make sure I understood them properly. Simple items like saying, "...2st Lt. Sawyer Ahern..." Is enough to make you wonder if it is the "st" that is the error or the "2."
As I am 100% convinced that all of the minor mistakes mentioned above will easily be taken care of in a round or two of final editing, I have decided to give this book 4 out of 4 stars. Based on the spelling errors alone I almost gave the book 3 stars, but I firmly believe the powerful story and amazing presentation overshadow the errors that will quite frankly not be present once this is finally published. I highly recommend this book for anyone that is interested in military history (especially Vietnam) or anyone that loves a good war book that delves into the details of soldiers' everyday lives. If reading about the horrors of war is not for you or if you have a strong opinion against war and/or the American involvement in Vietnam, this book is likely not for you.
Through A Lens Darkly: Vietnam
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― Ernest Hemingway
kandscreeley wrote:Wow! This does sound like a powerful book. These are the types of stories that we need to get out there. Thanks for the review.
My pleasure! It really was a neat read as it didn't follow your traditional "Vietnam War Story" vibe of infantry soldiers. The message is pretty powerful as well. Thanks for the comment!
-- 04 Apr 2017, 09:34 --
kimmyschemy06 wrote:Sounds like a very interesting read. I'm not much into war stories, but it seems like there is more to this story than fighting. Good job on the review.
That is one of the points which is very powerful with this book. There is so much more to war than the infantry grunt on the front lines. The book quotes at one point (and my numbers may be off) but the support to combat soldier ratio is something like 3:1. There is a lot more behind war than what Hollywood shows us as well! Thanks for the comment.
Tevis Scout wrote:Great review! This review makes me want to read this book, which I may have passed on with just the cover and title. I am a little surprised that you gave it a 4/4 rating with all the editing needed, but I understand your explanation and reasoning. This book definitely goes on my "must read" list now!
Your comment outlines both the "Pro's" and "Cons" of that rating. Technically, I probably should have rated it 3/4 stars for some of the spelling / editing, but if I had you (and the others clicking on/reading the review) may not have given the book the time-of-day. Lets be perfectly honest, we have a limited amount of time in our lives and many folks are pulled towards a big difference between a "3" and a "4" in order to only read the best books they can. I really wanted to show how much I enjoyed this one. Thanks for the comments!
MsMartha wrote:This does sound like an interesting book. The Vietnam war happened back in my younger days, and I had a neighbor once who had been a photographer in Vietnam. This sounds like a well-done story except for the spelling and grammar--maybe this will be fixed by the time I can read the book. Regardless of that, I AM looking forward to it.
From what I have read in this book, I tip my hat to your neighbor then. There is one thing being in a conflict and being able to shoot back (and I'm not putting down that action in the least) and there is another when you only shoot back with pictures. Thanks for the comment!
-- 05 Apr 2017, 11:07 --
Chrys Brobbey wrote:Years ago I read a thrilling war book, but that was pure fiction. Since then I veered to reading non-war thrillers, but it looks like I need to check this book out. Kudos for a good review.
There are definitely two parts to this intertwined story. One is the "exciting" and "action" portions that you may be able to define was a thriller as the situations keep you on edge while the combatants are in danger. The other part is definitely not one of action and is more focussed on the day-to-day lives during war. I often find myself comparing this book to M.A.S.H in many ways. Thanks for the comments!
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