Fabulous Fiction Firsts #203

"Even as the Vietnam War recedes into the past, the despair, confusion, and mythology it generated retains a grip on our culture" writes the Library Journal reviewer. This spring publishing season, two big, bold and marvelous debut novels about the war deserve a spot on everyone's reading list and they couldn't be more different or more compelling.

Chronologically, Karl Marlantes' Matterhorn : a novel of the Vietnam War** comes first. The narrative unfolds on the front line in 1969 Vietnam as Waino Mella, a young lieutenant leads his squad to take out an enemy gun nest. New orders send the squad on jungle missions murderous for the deprivation, incessant monsoons, treacherous terrain, endless ambushes and the deadly exposure to Agent Orange.

This "realistic, in-the-trenches look at war", by a decorated veteran (30 years in the making) is dense and vivid - especially the excellent battle scenes. But what is memorable are the characters - their personal struggles and divisions. magnified by their environment while trying to stay true to their purpose. A grand addition to the genre.

Debut novelist Tatjana Soli's The Lotus Eaters** captures the wrenching chaos of war as an American combat photographer finds herself torn between the love of two men.

In 1975, as the North Vietnamese army advances on to Saigon, Helen Adams must take leave of a war she is addicted to and a devastated country she has come to love. In a drama of devotion and betrayal, Helen is caught between her lover Linh, a Vietnamese who must grapple with his own conflicted loyalties, and Sam, her fiercest competitor and true friend. " A stunning novel of passion, duty and ambition among the ruins of war".

** = Starred reviews