2 out of 4 stars
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West Point Mafia Revealed is a novel based on the real-life story of a Vietnam war veteran, Peter J. Ammon. Written by him in collaboration with his daughter, Patina M. Thompson, this book is a revelation of the malpractices and outdated norms followed by the United States Military Academy, also known as West Point. Starting from the place where he was born, it takes us through various stepping stones which led Ammon to serve in the army. Along with the circumstances that led him to join West Point, we are also given a peek into the life of the soldiers who fought in the Vietnam war. Ammon has brought forward his experiences while working as a trainer for the new cadets at West Point, what finally led to his departure from the institution and what he made out of his life through this journey.
The story is narrated in first person by Ammon. The first chapter gives a brief and sharp history of his childhood, where and how he was raised, and his various accomplishments at school. The third and fourth chapters take form of the letters that he had written to his wife while serving in the Vietnam war. These two chapters form almost half of the book. And this is where the flaws start to emerge in the storytelling. While it seems interesting to read the letters of a soldier, stretching it for two whole chapters turns it into a drag. At first, it felt good to know about the love, concern and intimacy that the soldiers and their loved ones have for each other. It also brings forward the conditions he had faced and all the troubles he encountered in the jungles of Vietnam, along with his men. However, the author stretched it far more than he needed to. He could have taken a different approach in bringing forward this aspect of his life. For something that could have been wonderful, even romantic, it became the most tedious thing in the book. I had a strong urge to jump over lines and paragraphs. The only reason I didn’t do it was that I was hoping that there would be something substantial in this section.
This was also the part where I encountered the maximum number of grammatical mistakes. At first, I was keeping a strict track of all these errors. However, when they started getting out of hand, I realized that these errors would have been made in the original letters. Considering that they had copied down all the letters as it is, I dropped my concerns regarding it. In chapter three, there are many instances where ‘womens’ is written instead of women or woman. Since this is too frequent, I was led to think that it could have been an inside joke shared between Ammon and his wife (which might or might not be true).
From the fifth chapter, we see the entrance of Ammon as a trainer into West Point. He adopted unorthodox and witty ways to better his men, while quickly understanding the difference of opinion that he held with the institution. He openly talked about these flaws with his colleagues and even wrote letters to his superiors in which he had voiced his concerns regarding the techniques used to train the cadets and also suggested the ways through which they could better it. These letters have been put up in the book. Of all the things I felt alien to, Ammon’s thought process in these letters was not one of them. He had brought forward the criteria of standing up foremost as humans rather than being separated by caste and racism. I constantly found myself in agreement with the techniques and subtle nuances he wanted to impart in the training system. These things have a universal appeal and are not limited to the military mindset.
I will say that the title of this book had mislead me. It is completely different from what I had originally expected. I had thought that since the ‘mafia’ is the central theme, it would form a greater part of the book. However, it turned out more to be about Ammon’s life. Perhaps a different and more apt title could prevent the reader from forming any misconceptions. To sum it up, my rating for West Point Mafia Revealed is 2 out of 4 stars. This book is not for everyone. Also, I accept that I wasn’t the right audience for it. I am not well versed in army dictionary and that is why it was a bit too much information for me sometimes. However, a person with an army background or someone who is connected to a serviceman will appreciate it. They might relate closely to the unexpected incidents in Ammon’s life and how he handled it. This book is inspirational in its essence. It calls out for making the most out of things when everything seems lost and standing up for what is right rather than succumbing to what is easy.
West Point Mafia Revealed
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