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The Fearless Man: A Novel of Vietnamby Donald Pfarrer
Synopses & Reviews
On its publication in 1982, James Carroll called Donald Pfarrer's Neverlight "the most intelligent and moving novel that I have read about Vietnam." Paul Fussell wrote that it was "one of the finest novels about war I've ever read, and that includes A Farewell to Arms." Now Pfarrer revisits the conflict and creates a modern classic — an epic novel of all the wars we wage to occupy ground, forge a future, and save our own souls.
The mission is Vietnam in microcosm: a quest to find and obliterate a secret enemy weapons cache. Leading this fateful journey is Captain MacHugh Clare, a draftee who has become the consummate soldier. Unconcerned with death, he shifts immediately each morning from unconsciousness to action, "from sound sleep to a crashing heart." His reward at the end of the mission is the possibility of seeing his beloved wife. But for now, he cannot stop fighting long enough to see any other world but war.
Beside Mac is his opposite, Chaplain Paul Adrano, who knows only doubt and disillusion. He has come to Vietnam to kill his fear, to find his faith on the field of battle, and he will soon know the forbidden power of violence and the pull of sexual temptation.
Meanwhile, in America, Mac's wife, Sarah, fights her own battle — against a feeling of uselessness, a suspicion that she is "not fit for anything the world needs." Struggling with notions of a woman's proper role, Sarah begins to see possibilities beyond merely waiting at home for the man she loves.
They all complete their missions in ways they had never anticipated.
From a jungle battlefield to the Citadel of Hue to the homefront, Donald Pfarrer paints in prose both violent and lyrical his characters' attempts to believe and deny, commit and be released, search and destroy. Not since Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead has a writer so powerfully explored the inner lives of men and women in war. The Fearless Man is a major work of fiction — one as meaningful, wild, tortured, and unsettling as the Vietnam experience itself.
"Courage and cowardice are the themes of Pfarrer's riveting Vietnam novel, one of the finest of its kind. Set in 19671968, Pfarrer's character-driven story tells of Marine Capt. MacHugh Clare and the men of his infantry company as they fight Vietcong and North Vietnamese soldiers in the jungles and cities of South Vietnam. Clare is a calm, cool battlefield leader who claims he has never been afraid, but when an inexperienced navy chaplain joins his unit on a dangerous search and destroy mission, Clare begins to regard his leadership in a different way. Lt. Paul Adrano, who has never seen combat, thinks he is prepared for the horrors of the modern battlefield, but he soon questions his vows and his worth as a priest and as a man. Watching both men carefully is Clare's senior enlisted man, Gunnery Sergeant Hitchcock, a crusty, battle-hardened Marine who will come to love one man and hate the other. As Clare, Adrano, Hitchcock and the Marines fight and die in Vietnam, Clare's wife, Sarah, and other Marine wives wonder and worry back home, fighting their own battles against loneliness, boredom, uncertainty and the dread of a government-issue telegram. Most of the men think they are fearless; only a few know the truth about themselves. Pfarrer's (Cold River) dramatic, suspenseful narrative offers a vivid and accurate depiction of combat leadership, comradeship, small unit tactics and the brutal perspective of Marine infantrymen in Vietnam. This is a story with visceral resonance." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Herman Wouk-like in its sweep....Pfarrer sets out one of the most effective and memorable death scenes in modern war literature. Thoroughly well crafted, though not for the squeamish." Kirkus Reviews
"The Fearless Man should serve as the gold standard for any other fiction to come out about the war....It's a war story that hovers in my mind somewhere between The Iliad and The Naked and the Dead." Chicago Tribune
"This is not a perfect novel....But as a novel about combat, The Fearless Man ranks among the best to emerge from a war so political and emotionally charged." Los Angeles Times
"What...elevat[es] it into such company as...For Whom the Bell Tolls and...The Red Badge of Courage, is its acute sense of the volatile nature of courage....Few war novels are so thoroughly informed by an insider's knowledge of military tactics, weaponry and language." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Although Pfarrer's novel is generally exciting and gripping, with rich characters and clever, even eloquent, dialog, it is ultimately too ambitious; the story is sometimes difficult to follow and a little preachy." Library Journal
About the Author
Donald Pfarrer was awarded the Bronze Star with Combat V and the Purple Heart for service in the Vietnam War. On returning from Vietnam, Pfarrer covered the antiwar movement for the Milwaukee Journal. He later became the Journal's senior political reporter. Pfarrer is a graduate of Harvard College and the author of three previous novels: Cold River, Neverlight, and Temple and Shipman. He lives with his wife, Anne Burling, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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