3 out of 4 stars
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It is the fall of 1970. Art Wiederhold is a 19 year old American journalist from Brooklyn who doesn’t believe the articles about the civil war in Vietnam. The reporters keep telling them that the Americans are murderers and rapists and their presence is harmful for the Vietnamese. He wants to go and see for himself what is happening and report the truth to the world. He doesn’t want to enlist as a soldier, but instead be a true journalist, documenting and photographing the events of the war. He requests UPI to send him to a place where there is real action going on, and not to Saigon, the usual place where all the reporters go. He is sent to Fort Nowhere, a place in the Central Highlands, so called because it is not mentioned in the map.
Thus begins Fort Nowhere, Vietnam, a journey carried out by Art, the youngest man on camp. He has no military training but his forefathers from the past seven generations have been in the war. He works on autopilot simply because of the fact that he wants to write and hope that his articles of truth are published in America. Art soon finds out that he was correct about lies being written all this time. The villagers are actually happy that the Americans are protecting them from the Vietnam Congress, known as VC, and also sometimes as codeword ‘Charlie’. In reality, the VC turn out to be murderers and rapists and perform barbarous acts to ‘recruit’ more people to their side.
There are many happy moments in this book as well. In spite of the war, life goes on. The villagers are extremely friendly and Art fits right in. The men at the camp, Lt. John Barrows, Simmons, Drum, Flynn (the chaplain), Randy and Lou (the tech specialists), to name a few, are all like family. They teach Art about the ways of the camp (how they live without rank) and survival skills. Art learns not to drink the water without putting a couple of iodine tablets and ends up drinking more beer like the others. He eats with them at least once a day at Li’s place, a restaurant run by Li, an extremely attractive and friendly lady who takes a liking to Art almost immediately. His charm is such that many in the village befriend as well. He meets Sam, the photography supplies shop owner, Han, the Buddhist priest, the sisters at the Ursuline Convent and many more amazing people.
I think I can’t write much more without spoilers. This happy environment doesn’t last forever. Do Art’s articles get published in the newspaper? Does the war end on a happy note? How many casualties suffer? Do the civilians ever find peace? Who wins – the VC or the Americans? I can tell you one thing. If you cannot handle gore or violence associated with the war, this book is not for you. I don’t like it any better, but I read it as a factual depiction of the war. This is supposed to be fiction, but the dates really made me feel as if it was true. The story has been brilliantly written with adult scenes stated as facts rather than making me cringe, like some do. There were a few spelling and grammatical mistakes for which I rate it 3 out of 4 stars. If it was possible, I would have rated 3.5. It deserves full marks, sans the editing mistakes.
Fort Nowhere, Vietnam isn’t just a story. It can be said as an experience. I learnt a lot of things from it. I never knew what a war actually looked like. Through Art’s eyes, I did. I learnt about Vietnam, a few of its customs and its cultures. I learnt a bit of Buddhism as well. Art isn’t a firm believer of any religion, but has several wonderful insights. Art is appreciated in camp, not only because of his frankness and kindness, but also because of his natural instincts to react when under fire. I suggest this to all readers who would want to see the war in a different light. I hope we will never experience a war like this. I learnt that war affects all involved, directly or indirectly. Whether it was the shooting, the Napalm (air) strikes, the bombs, the combat attacks or the surprise ambushes, I still flinched. War isn’t pretty. I hope history doesn’t repeat itself like this ever again.
Fort Nowhere, Vietnam
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