Choose from three excellent, healing works on Vietnam

August 24, 1997
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

Here are three excellent books on the Vietnam War: "An American Requiem"
by James Carroll (Houghton Mifflin, 1996); "Father, Soldier, Son"
by Nathaniel Tripp (Steerforth Press, 1996) and "Shopping Cart Soldiers"
by John Mulligan (Curbstone Press, 1997).

Only Tripp's book is in any way a traditional war narrative. In fact, Carroll, author of "An American Requiem, " never set foot in Vietnam but was a Catholic priest who counseled young American draft-dodgers on the East Coast.
The last book in this trio is the most unusual.

"Shopping Cart Soldiers" is the story of San Francisco resident John Mulligan. His family emigrated to the United States from Scotland when he was 18. Mulligan enlisted in the Air Force and was promptly sent to Vietnam. After his tour of duty, he returned to San Francisco.

You might have stepped across Mulligan in a North Beach park. For the next 12 years he was a homeless, drunken bum who slept in the bushes or in empty doorways.

One day he was picked up and taken to San Francisco General Hospital. He wasn't dead, but he was in a coma that lasted for three days. When he woke up he discovered that he'd lost both his taste for booze and his desire to live on the streets. Later, somewhere along the line in his recovery, he decided to write a book. And he did, with help from writer Maxine Hong Kingston who is active in veterans' writing workshops.

The book is as curious and highly imaginative as you might expect from such a non-traditional writer.

Several different characters and personalities inhabited Mulligan's mind, including the ghost of Robert Louis Stevenson, and he brought them to life between the pages of his story.

Mulligan and his publisher, Curbstone Press, also have included a plea at the end of the book for readers to contribute to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

James Carroll's book, subtitled "God, My Father, and the War that Came Between Us," is an autobiographical history of a tumultuous era. Carroll became a priest in part to please his father. But from the moment he gave his first sermon -- an anti-war sermon -- in February of 1969 to the end of his father's life, the American war in Vietnam represented all that stood between them. And his father was a lieutenant general in the Air Force.

Don't think that you had to serve in the trenches to be torn apart by that war.

Carroll's book, now out in paperback, won a National Book Award. Carroll's story of a family divided must have been repeated in thousands of households across the country during those turbulent years. Carroll, who left the priesthood many years ago, lives in Boston with his wife and children where he writes a weekly column for the Boston Globe.

Tripp's book, "Father, Solider, Son," is the memoir of a scared young platoon leader in Vietnam told from the perspective of a grown man many years later. It represents Tripp's attempt to come to grips with his father's weaknesses and explores his own strong feelings for his three sons.

Tripp's experiences in Vietnam helped him grow from a boy to a man - a cliché, but true. The first duty of an infantry officer is the care of his men but when Tripp arrived in Vietnam as a just-promoted second lieutenant in the summer of 1968 he had no memory of a man's example to guide or sustain him. He learns to accept - and love -- the responsibility thrust upon him. Tripp may have experienced many traumas during the war, but he writes about his tour with considerable beauty and remarkably little guts and gore.

Tripp now lives in Northern Vermont where he works as a TV producer, writer and part-time farmer.

In each of these books the author is able to come to some healing. Readers will be able to participate in the healing, too.

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