Thursday, March 20, 2008

REVIEW: 'The Year of the Monkey' by William W. Lewis

Title: The Year of the Monkey
Author: William W. Lewis
Price: $17.95
Genre: Historical Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-595-47584-1
Publisher: iUniverse
Point of Sale: Amazon

In the world of self-publishing, the highest complement is to ask, “Why didn’t a regular publisher pick this book up?” In looking at _The Year of the Monkey_, I have to ask that very question. William Lewis, a Vietnam War combat vet, has written simply the best self-published book I have ever read. It’s a work that I would stack favorably against any novel in its genre. It’s that good.

The book is the story of four people, three Americans and one Vietnamese, thrown together in the famous Tet Offensive of 1968. The novel starts with one of these men, Marine Sergeant Michael Warner, flying into Danang airfield in late 1967. In military fiction, this is the equivalent of booking passage on the Titanic – we know where this is going. But the author throws us a curveball, in that the climatic scenes of the novel are not during Tet, but after.

Frank Morin, a high-ranking CIA operative, and Wally Brumsfield, a reporter, interact, at times unknowingly, with Warner and the fourth man, Tan Van Ky, a barber / Viet Cong cadre, as the situation builds to Tet. They also all four run afoul of the CIA’s real-life Phoenix program, a covert operation to “eliminate” the Viet Cong.

The author does a great job in portraying all of his characters as real, nuanced individuals. The communists, although brutal, are not cardboard cutouts, nor are the other characters. They all have wants and needs, and are all trying to do the best they can for their country and friends. There’s “soldier language” (read “foul”) aplenty, and violence galore, some of the later at times pointless. That’s the way of war sometimes.

The book does not end on a happy note, which is probably as it should. It gets to its ending honestly if brutally, and feels authentic to its time and setting. This is definitely not a novel for the faint of heart, but if you are tough enough, The Year of the Monkey is a great read.

Rating: 10/10

Chris Gerrib is a resident of Villa Park, IL and Director of Technology for a Chicago-area bank. Chris is the author of the science fiction novel The Mars Run. He holds degrees from the University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University and is president-elect of the Rotary Club of Darien, IL.


Floyd M. Orr said...

Dr. Al Past at iUBR loved this book, too. Kudos to Mr. Lewis. Readers of this genre should also check out Dr. Past's review of The Protected Will Never Know, another outstanding book about the Vietnam experience. Thank you.

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