Johnny Shoebridge has just returned from fighting in the jungles of Vietnam. He no longer carries a weapon – only photos of the dead and a dread of the living…Pursued by a Viet Cong ghost-fighter called Khan, Johnny makes one last stand – knowing that if he cannot lay this spectre to rest, he will remain a prisoner of war for ever.
Drawing on courage, loyalty and love, Johnny tries to find a way back from the nightmare of war to a sense of hope for the future.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher Allen and Unwin.
When I first read the premise of this book, I was hooked. Having been to Vietnam myself—seeing the places, hearing the tales, and visiting the museums—I felt like I already had a connection to the book and the character Johnny (and also in some ways to Khan). However, this book was not exactly what I was expecting and I dnf it.
Setting. I really loved the setting and how beautifully both countries—Australia and Vietnam—are described. This gave me a whole new appreciation for place and nature. As you read the parts set in Vietnam, you can almost feel the sweat dripping down your back and the oppressively humid heat compressing your lungs. The setting had an ethereal quality, it felt very ancient and haunting.
Characters. I generally liked the characters and I feel that they are represented accurately for the time period (i.e. 1970s Australia), but I found it so difficult to connect with Johnny. His story is bleak and grim and I could definitely still sympathise with him, but I just couldn’t connect. Khan is a confusing character, though as I didn’t finish the book, I don’t really find out who Khan really is; is he an actual person, is he a figment of Johnny’s imagination, or is he a really Johnny? I just couldn’t work it out. It felt like I was reading two stories that were both the same and different.
Plot. The thing is, this book doesn’t really have much of a plot—at least not in the first half of the book that I read. You find out a bit of what happened to Johnny in Vietnam, what’s happening since he returned, and about this Khan character, but there doesn’t seem to be much purpose to it besides a vague exploration of PTSD. I couldn’t engage with the book and I felt hesitant to keep picking it up. It took me a week to read 150 pages because I just didn’t want to keep going with something that I wasn’t really getting into. Like I said, I loved the premise, but this book just didn’t follow through for me.
Writing. The writing, however, is beautiful. This and the setting are what made me give the first half of this book 2/5 stars. It is so haunting and poetic and it uses Australian slang, language characterisation, and free indirect discourse (my favourite literary device EVER). But this was not enough to convince me to finish the book.
I was very disappointed in the book and the fact that I dnf it (because I hate dnf-ing books).
Recommended to: people who enjoy poetic books that don’t mind weak plots.
Please Note: all opinions are mine and are not endorsed with any company or organization.