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Tree of Smoke (2007)

von Denis Johnson

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2,191755,485 (3.55)140
The lives of Skip Sands, a spy-in-training engaged in psychological operations against the Vietcong, and brothers Bill and James Houston, young men who drift out of the Arizona desert into a war, intertwine in a novel of America during the Vietnam War.
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Joel's 10/06/07 review states in part: "Michiko Kakutani hated it. Frank Rich loved it. But only Salon got it right. This is a massive book, with a big topic (the Vietnam War) cross-referenced with another big topic (military intelligence), further complicated by big technique (multiple characters, heady mystery and homages to cultural classics -- Heart of Darkness, the novels of Graham Greene, and war cinema like Apocalypse Now and Platoon). Opinion on this book seems to divide between people willing to chew through a 600-page novel and those who don't have the patience. If you're game to meditate on something as unpleasant as a botched war and its covert operations, Tree of Smoke is highly rewarding."
That said, and in spite of much critical acclaim regarding this book, I place myself in the impatient group having trouble plowing through a longish novel and meditating on unpleasant individuals in unpleasant circumstances.

( )
  rsutto22 | Jul 15, 2021 |
Tree of Smoke is long, sprawling, and not exactly an example of a story with a tidy conclusion. It's focus is on a mostly doomed set of characters, who are all involved with the Vietnam War, mainly in the periods before and after the Tet Offensive. It includes the iconoclastic CIA veteran, Colonel Francis Sands, his nephew and fellow CIA operative, Skip Sands, the two Houston brothers from Phoenix, a Canadian 7th Day Adventist nurse who has lost her husband, the Colonel's Vietnamese driver and his nephew, the Colonel's helicopter pilot, a potential Viet Cong double agent, and a whole host of other characters trying to navigate their way through the war (and perhaps through Johnson's labyrinthine story.) But--it is Dennis Johnson--so, even if sometimes things as a whole don't work out, such as a few plot threads that I would say aren't quite wrapped up to my satisfaction, the writing is extraordinary, and there are scenes here that will stick with you for a long while, such as James Houston's first encounter with real warfare after thinking he was in a safe position guarding the Colonel's landing zone, or an assassin's preparation to kill the Viet Cong double agent, or a bar scene with an Australian dwarf.... It goes on and on. So many of the great scenes are not necessary to the story--but they are necessary to the book!

The atmosphere, first in the Philippines, then in Vietnam, is damp, hot, and oppressive. The hotels, streets, taxis, pedicabs, restaurants, and other locations are portrayed in vivid colors. There is no paint-by-numbers in Johnson's book. Nothing is generic. Everything, down to the beer and cigarettes is as real as fiction can make it. I listened to most of this as an audiobook, read incredibly well by Will Patton, but my loan ran out and couldn't be renewed, so I read the last 60 pages or so. I haven't quite read all of Johnson's work yet, but it is all extremely worthwhile, and this is no exception. Just be prepared to take your time. There's a lot here to mull over as you listen or read. This is not any sort of realistic fictional depiction of THE Vietnam War, but it is a few people's Vietnam War, and perhaps that is easier to understand, in the end. The book only has one real hero--and she is about as unheroic as they come. But she perseveres. ( )
  datrappert | Oct 6, 2020 |
Well written. Fascinating. It follows a handful of lives that intersect in Vietnam during the US war-invasion. In a mostly good way its a self-involved epic. Occasionally offensive. ( )
  reg_lt | Feb 7, 2020 |
I loved the writing and I felt right at home following the characters around in Denis Johnson's Vietnam War setting, but the story simply wasn't for me. Tree of Smoke gives me a Catch-22 vibe, a story I eventually learned to love but is a hard book to relate to, and there's a little bit of that going on here. Other reviews have suggested that more-than-a-passing awareness of Vietnamese history in a mid-20th century context is required to appreciate what this novel is trying to say. I can certainly understand that. ( )
  Daniel.Estes | Jan 27, 2020 |
"There was once a war in Asia that had among its tragedies the fact that it followed World War II, a modern war that had somehow managed to retain or revive some of the glories and romances of earlier wars. This Asian war however failed to give any romances outside of hellish myths.

Among the denizens to be twisted beyond recognition--even, or especially, beyond recognition by themselves, were a young Canadian widow and a young American man who alternately thought of himself as the Quiet American and the Ugly American, and who wished to be neither, who wanted instead to be the Wise American, or the Good American, but who eventually came to witness himself as the Real American and finally simply as the Fucking American.

That's me..."
--Denis Johnson, from Tree of Smoke ( )
  ralphpalm | Nov 11, 2019 |
The labyrinthine Tree of Smoke is full of hitches, tangents, but it reads exceedingly fast. It suggests a protracted war that moved in an exacting blur.
 
When a novel’s first words are “Last night at 3:00 a.m. President Kennedy had been killed,” and the rest of it evinces no more feel for the English language and often a good deal less, and America’s most revered living writer touts “prose of amazing power and stylishness” on the back cover, and reviewers agree that whatever may be wrong with the book, there’s no faulting its finely crafted sentences—when I see all this, I begin to smell a rat.
hinzugefügt von dcozy | bearbeitenThe Atlantic Monthley, B.R. Myers (Sep 15, 2009)
 
In fact, since the publication of his first novel, in 1983, he has been preoccupied with the paradoxical notions of self-sacrifice and salvation in our modern world—but never before has Johnson’s writing been quite so haunted and harrowing as it is in his massive new novel, twenty-five years in the works.
hinzugefügt von paradoxosalpha | bearbeitenThe Believer, Alec Michod (Oct 1, 2007)
 
Johnson's orchestration of these characters' intersecting lives is often graceless — as his last couple of novels have demonstrated, plotting has never been one of his strengths — and he has an unfortunate tendency to embroider their adventures with lots of portentous philosophizing about good and evil and religious faith. His heat-seeking eye for detail and his ability to render those observations in hot, tactile prose, however, immerse us so thoroughly in the fetid world of the war and the even more noxious world of espionage that they effectively erase the book's occasional longueurs.

Johnson not only succeeds in conjuring the anomalous, hallucinatory aura of the Vietnam War as authoritatively as Stephen Wright or Francis Ford Coppola, but he also shows its fallout on his characters with harrowing emotional precision. He has written a flawed but deeply resonant novel that is bound to become one of the classic works of literature produced by that tragic and uncannily familiar war.
 
Tree of Smoke is as excessive and messy as Moby Dick. Anything further removed from the tucked-up, hospital corners school of British fiction is hard to imagine. It's a big, dirty, unmade bed of a book and, once you settle in you're in no hurry to get out.
 

» Andere Autoren hinzufügen (8 möglich)

AutorennameRolleArt des AutorsWerk?Status
Denis JohnsonHauptautoralle Ausgabenberechnet
Abarbanell, BettinaÜbersetzerCo-Autoreinige Ausgabenbestätigt
Detje, RobinÜbersetzerCo-Autoreinige Ausgabenbestätigt
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Last night at 3:00 a.m. President Kennedy had been killed.
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The lives of Skip Sands, a spy-in-training engaged in psychological operations against the Vietcong, and brothers Bill and James Houston, young men who drift out of the Arizona desert into a war, intertwine in a novel of America during the Vietnam War.

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