Whether you've had the experience of going to war, which far too many American citizens have, or have stayed cleared of that ugly business, Cherries is a book that will ring true in many ways. It is a story of the Vietnam War, told by a “grunt” on the front lines. It successfully captures the way it must have been when groups of young males were thrown together, largely against their will, and put into an incredibly hostile environment.
Cherries makes a pretty clear statement that high-ranking officers were entirely focused on generating good PR and tracking performance metrics like body counts and weapons caches seized. The characters watch majors posing for pictures with war booty after they risked their lives to obtain the plunder; march through gently-drifting clouds of Agent Orange, the defoliant, which is now known to take a brutal toll on humans; and get sent on missions to rout out enemies regardless of the cost.
Author John Podlaski, through the eyes of his eponymous protagonist, tells of a conflict in which it was impossible to tell friend from foe, making it feel far more dangerous to walk through a purportedly friendly village than it was to track known enemy units through the jungles. In addition to the obvious dangers of war, he and his unit risk malaria, bites from jungle animals like spiders and snakes, and bad commands from officers who are often less experienced than they are; all to fight a war that much of the local populace and citizens back home do not support.
Although the mood is captured well, Cherries is somewhat rough around the edges, much like the new recruits whose nickname gives the novel its title. The deaths and serious maiming of key characters is often telegraphed, so it's easy to predict which soldier is going to be the next casualty of war. In an attempt to explain military acronyms and Vietnamese vocabularly, Podlaski has a habit of parenthetically defining the term directly inside the dialogue, giving the impression that the character is explaining the meaning, when it's clear that this is not the case. There are also frequent errors in the use of apostrophes.
Those details, which should have been caught by the editor, should not be allowed to distract from the power of this tale. Tune out the quirks and instead focus on the story of Cherries; you will have a much more profound understanding of both this war, and what we ask of our soldiers in any conflict.
Terence P Ward, Allbooks Review. www.allbooksreviewint.com
Author: John Podlaski
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