Summary and book reviews of Lost Soldiers by James Webb

Lost Soldiers

By James Webb

Lost Soldiers
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  • Hardcover: Aug 2001,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2002,
    384 pages.

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Book Summary

Once in a great while there comes a novel of such emotional impact and acute insight that it forever changes the way a reader sees a nation or an era. Writing with an unerring sense of suspense and of history experienced firsthand, James Webb takes us on a myth-shattering cultural odyssey deep into the heart of contemporary Vietnam, with a riveting thriller that tells a love story --- love for those who perished, for family and friends, and between a soldier and the land where he had always been ready to die.

Brandon Condley survived five years of combat as a U.S. Marine only to lose the woman he loved to an enemy assassin. Now he is back in Vietnam, working to recover the remains of unknown American soldiers. On a routine mission, Condley finds a body that doesn't match its dog tags --- a body that propels him into a vortex of violence and intrigue where past and present become one.

As the mystery of the dead man unravels, a link is revealed to two well-known killers: "Salt and Pepper," a pair of treasonous Americans who led a deadly Viet Cong ambush against Condley's own men. Galvanized by a fresh trail to these long-lost deserters, Condley has finally found a purpose: Under the auspices of his government job, he is going to hunt down the traitors. On his own, he is going to kill them.

Condley's hunt cannot be kept secret from his former enemies, or his friends. And in the shadows that linger from Vietnam's long season of darkness and terror, he has no way of knowing which side is more dangerous.

Surrounding him is an unforgettable cast of characters: Dzung, Condley's closest friend, a South Vietnamese war hero who might have led his country if his side had won the war, now reduced to driving a cyclo as his family starves in Saigon's District Four. Colonel Pham, a battle-hardened Viet Cong soldier who lost three children to American bombs. Manh, a cutthroat Interior Ministry official who blackmails Dzung into a mission of murder. The Russian soldier Anatolie Petrushinsky, who left his soul in Vietnam as his empire collapsed around him. And the beautiful Van, Colonel Pham's daughter, who spurns the scars of war as she pursues her dreams of freedom.

As Condley stalks his elusive prey across old battlefields and throughout Eurasia, returning always to the brooding streets of Saigon, his mission --- and the odds of his surviving it --- grow more precarious with each step he takes toward the truth.

Lost Soldiers captures the Vietnam of past and present --- its beauty and squalor, its politics and people. Propelled by a page-turning mystery, shot through with adventure and intrigue, it irrevocably transforms our view of that haunted land and brings us as complete an understanding as we will ever have of what happened after the war --- and why. No writer today is more qualified to take us into that world than James Webb.

Quang Nam Province, Viet Nam

"Typhoon," said Brandon Condley, his hard gray eyes expertly searching the bruised horizon.

It had been drizzling all morning, which was no surprise because actually it had been drizzling for weeks. But off to the east the real deal was rolling in from the South China Sea, having just wreaked havoc in the northern islands of the Philippines. Condley zipped his rain jacket all the way up underneath his throat as if to emphasize the coming storm, then pulled his worn baseball cap lower over his eyes. And finally, just to make the point that he did not really care, he laughed.

"Hey, Professor, Buddha's pissed. Welcome to the real Viet Nam!"

Hanson Muir stood like a dreamer ten feet in front of him, near the prow of the narrow wooden boat. The boat was struggling against the angry current of the chalky, swollen Thu Bon River, its two-cylinder motor putting like a loud lawn mower. Its bow yawed this way and that, smacking against odd flotsam and...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Senator John McCain
James Webb's new novel paints a portrait of a modern Vietnam charged with hopes for the future but haunted by the ghosts of its war-torn past. It captures well the lingering scars of the war, and exposes the tension between the dynamism of a new generation and the invisible bondage of an older generation for whom wartime allegiances, and animosities, are rendered no less vivid by the passage of time. A novel of revenge and redemption that tells us much about both where Vietnam is headed and where it has been.

Author Blurb Walter Anderson, Chairman and Publisher, Parade Magazine
A masterpiece, one of the most poignant and powerful novels of this generation ... Lost Soldiers is one of those rare books that is not only a beautifully realized literary triumph but also a crackling good page-turner. Its seamless blend of mystery and intrigue, with its subtle truths of history and culture and its stories of love and honor played out by unforgettable characters, is nothing short of miraculous. Jim Webb did not set out to write a healing book, but that is what he has done. I suspect Lost Soldiers can bring my country together after years of debate and division --- and it took a warrior to write it. You will come away a different person after you've read it.

Publishers Weekly

Webb's cultural and political portrayal of Vietnam 25 years after the war's end is delivered with such bold strokes and magical detail.... This is a highly personal and empathetic look at today's Vietnam.... This detailed, lovingly drawn portrait of Vietnam reveals a sad, tortured country that has never recovered from the horrifying events of a quarter-century ago.

Reader Reviews
Anonymous

I expected this to be a war story -- blood and guts and excesses of testosterone - but what I found was a thought provoking novel that brought to life a country and people that I wish I knew more about. The quality of the story telling and the ...   Read More

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