Friday, February 29, 2008

The Year of the Monkey

by William W. Lewis
( / 0-595-47584-1 / January, 2008 / 286 pages / $17.95)

Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for iUBR

Full disclosure: I am a Viet Nam-era veteran (Navy), but beyond seeing Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter, I have been content to put the whole unpleasantness of that time out of my mind. Evidently, the great majority of my fellow Americans feel the same way. That's more than a shame: in view of current events, it's a tragedy. Now more than ever we need to be reminded of how important it is we know where we've been as a nation, where we've gone wrong, and, if we can only gain a few glimmerings of wisdom, where not to go in the future. Some think democracy is the great wave of the future. There's probably a better argument to be made that stupidity is the wave of the future.

That's why
The Year of the Monkey
, by William W. Lewis, is most timely. For me, it brings back memories long forgotten, and in sharp detail. It rings true. The story is set at the time of the Tet Offensive, when Communist forces mounted a surprise counterattack against Hue, a supposedly safe city in South Vietnam. The attack failed in the short run, but the political ramifications it caused are viewed by many historians as the beginning of the end of our ill-advised and bungled adventure in Indochina. To tell his story Lewis interweaves the lives of four characters: a Marine Sergeant, a CIA operative, a journalist, and a seemingly humble Vietnamese barber, who is really a double agent and a devoted patriot. These threads are brought together with great skill and grace in cleanly written, convincingly detailed prose. The resulting tale is one in which the reader cares for the characters, imperfect though they all are. At the end one can only shake one's head at the waste, the stupidity, and the cruelty that make savages of us all, including the ignorant and uncaring back home.

That sounds terribly somber, but the book is not, really. The editing is nearly immaculate. It's a page-turner in the good sense: fun to read despite its serious subject matter. For those with super-delicate sensibilities, I should mention that the language of most of the characters is rough indeed. It is also accurate: I know! See the first sentence, above.

The Year of the Monkey is a terrific example of an independently published book that is outside the norm, not below it! If Mr. Lewis has any more books in him, I want to hear about them.
See Also: Dr. Past's B&N Review
William W. Lewis' Website

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