Clark, June 30, 2008 (view all comments by Clark)
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson is a masterpiece. This book provides more evidence that Johnson is one of the greatest writers at work today. Tree of Smoke captures the utter devastation of war. No one wins in war, and Denis Johnson has done a good job of portraying that in Tree of Smoke. Don't let the size of this book deter you from reading it, it is a fast read filled with great imagery and detail. Tree of Smoke is a must read for anyone who is interested in the Vietnam War. In all reality it is a must read for anyone who enjoys great books. Tree of Smoke is one of my all time favorite books. Thank you Mr. Johnson for writing a book worth my money and time.
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K Bloom, December 24, 2007 (view all comments by K Bloom)
The 2007 National Book Award winner, Tree of Smoke is an epic of the vietnam war era. It follows the lives of two brothers, an officer and his nephew, and other interesting characters and some of the family they leave behind when they go to war. We meet the vietcong also, and get a glimpse of how this war affected theier familys as our won civil war affected ours. It is a very strong novel which captures that time in our history brilliantly. The title of the novel comes from the code name for a counter-pschycological operation which forms one of the main parts of the book. Never boring, very insightful as the characters in the novel are finely drawn, I think this is easily one of the best novels published this year! I'd also recommend reading Tino Georgiou's bestselling novel--The Fates--if you haven't yet
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Jack Walter, December 4, 2007 (view all comments by Jack Walter)
I am amazed at the critics and readers (a minority, of course) that love to bash this book. Tree of Smoke is absorbing and powerful, with flashes of genius. For those with the patience and imagination to accept what this novel has to offer, reading Johnson's story is an experience never to be forgotten. I'm not surprised at all that this book won the National Book Award. If only more modern writers had this much talent and dared to do something with it.
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Deborah Fochler, October 25, 2007 (view all comments by Deborah Fochler)
A masterful history lesson covering the 60s and 70s in America - the Vietnam War is forefront but covers the death of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King. This is a very long book but it seems as though those years were incredibly long and drawn out. The stories in the book covers multiple people but will burn a hole into your soul much as the war did to America. Will never be forgotten by the people who experienced it A huge undertaking by this author accomplished in beautiful detail. Bravo!!
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Ambition doesn't always translate into success, which is why some books that take authors nearly ten years to write become massive paperweights. Then there's Tree of Smoke, Denis Johnson's first novel in nine years and an unconditional masterpiece. This hypnotic modern epic brings the Vietnam War into sharp relief in a story that is equal parts Graham Greene, Robert Stone, and pure Denis Johnson, as only the acclaimed author of Jesus' Son, Fiskadoro, and The Name of the World could deliver. Curl up with this disturbing, compelling, unforgettable novel
by Chris Bolton
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"'Signature Review by Michael Coffey If this novel, Johnson's first in nearly a decade, is — as the promo copy says — about Skip Sands, it's also about his uncle, a legendary CIA operative; Kathy Jones, a widowed, saintly Canadian nurse; Trung, a North Vietnamese spy; and the Houston brothers, Bill and James, misguided GIs who haunt the story's periphery. And it's also about Sgt. Jimmy Storm, whose existence seems to be one long vision quest. As with all of Johnson's work — the stories in Jesus' Son, novels like Resuscitation of a Hanged Man and Fiskadoro — the real point is the possibility of grace in a world of total mystery and inexplicable suffering. In Johnson's honest world, no one story dominates.For all the story lines, the structure couldn't be simpler: each year, from 1963 (the book opens in the Philippines: 'Last night at 3:00 a.m. President Kennedy had been killed') to 1970, gets its own part, followed by a coda set in 1983. Readers familiar with the Vietnam War will recognize its arc — the Tet offensive (65 harrowing pages here); the deaths of Martin Luther King and RFK; the fall of Saigon, swift and seemingly foreordained. Skip is a CIA recruit working under his uncle, Francis X. Sands, known as the Colonel. Skip is mostly in the dark, awaiting direction, living under an alias and falling in love with Kathy while the Colonel deals in double agents, Bushmills whiskey and folk history. He's a soldier-scholar pursuing theories of how to purify an information stream; he bloviates in gusts of sincerity and blasphemy, all of it charming. A large cast of characters, some colorful, some vaguely chalked, surround this triad, and if Tree of Smoke has a flaw, it is that some characters are virtually indistinguishable. Given the covert nature of much of the goings-on, perhaps it is necessary that characters become blurred. 'We're on the cutting edge of reality itself,' says Storm. 'Right where it turns into a dream.'Is this our last Vietnam novel? One has to wonder. What serious writer, after tuning in to Johnson's terrifying, dissonant opera, can return with a fresh ear? The work of many past chroniclers — Graham Greene, Tim O'Brien, the filmmakers Coppola,Cimino and Kubrick, all of whom have contributed to our cultural 'understanding' of the war — is both evoked and consumed in the fiery heat of Johnson's story. In the novel's coda, Storm, a war clich now way gone and deep in the Malaysian jungle near Thailand, attends preparations for a village's sacrificial bonfire (consisting of personal items smashed and axed by their owners) and offers himself as 'compensation, baby.' When the book ends, in a heartbreaking soliloquy from Kathy (fittingly, a Canadian) on the occasion of a war orphan benefit in a Minneapolis Radisson, you feel that America's Vietnam experience has been brought to a closure that's as good as we'll ever get. Michael Coffey is PW's executive managing editor.' Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)"
"Review A Day"
by B. R. Myers, The Atlantic Monthly,
"Having read nothing by Denis Johnson except Tree of Smoke, his latest novel, I see no reason to consider him a great or even a good writer....One closes the book only with a renewed sense of the decline of American literary standards. It would be foolish to demand another Tolstoy, but shouldn't we expect someone writing about the Vietnam War to have more sense and eloquence than the politicians who prosecuted it?" (read the entire Atlantic Monthly review)
by Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times,
"What's amazing is that Mr. Johnson somehow manages to take these derivative elements and turn them into something highly original — and potent....[A] flawed but deeply resonant novel that is bound to become one of the classic works of literature produced by that tragic and uncannily familiar war."
by Minneapolis Star Tribune,
"Tree of Smoke, Johnson's sixth novel and his first in almost a decade, is his best to date. It's ambitious and perfectly executed, a vivid and continuous dream, and nothing short of a masterpiece."
by Jim Lewis, The New York Times Book Review,
"[A] tremendous book, a strange entertainment, very long but very fast, a great whirly ride....Tree of Smoke is a massive thing and something like a masterpiece; it's the product of an extraordinary writer in full stride."
by Library Journal,
"Ugly and fascinating, with many shattering scenes, this long work may seem familiar to fans of Apocalypse Now but is nevertheless gripping."
by Vince Passaro, Newsday,
"An amazingly talented writer....We can hear Twain in his biting irony, Whitman in his erotic excess, not a little of Dashiell Hammett too in the hard sentences he throws back at his gouged, wounded world."
by Cleveland Plain Dealer,
"The fierce, lucid detachment of Tree of Smoke would make Soren Kierkegaard proud. Johnson, a poet and novelist who lives in northern Idaho, has written the best work of his career, an existential tour de force."
by San Diego Union-Tribune,
"Long, rich, dazzling, Tree of Smoke should finally establish [Johnson] among the most profound and truly humane American novelists extant....Tree of Smoke is a great read, an amazing achievement."
by The Los Angeles Times,
"[T]he writing is always beautiful. Still...mostly what we get here is a sense of being on the outside, which — in Johnson's universe, anyway — has never been enough."
"[A] big book, a story that works in the best ways a big book can — a multipronged tale, told in a straight-ahead chapter-by-chapter chronology, clear and light-bearing as a great tale, something like Lonesome Dove for the Tet Offensive set."
by Denver Post,
"[A] complex and hypnotic vision, apocalyptic in its power and in its ability to move the reader."
by Providence Journal,
"Dialogue crackles and burns a hole in your soul."
Twenty-five years in the making, a dark, indelible epic of the American empire in decline from the author of Jesus' Son, "one of the best and most compelling novelists in the nation" (Elle).
This book chronicles the story of Skip Sands — spy-in-training, who's engaged in psychological operations against the Vietcong — and the disasters that befall him thanks to his famous uncle, a war hero known in intelligence circles simply as the Colonel.
Twenty-five years in the making, a dark, indelible epic of the American empire in decline from the author of Jesus' Son, "one of the best and most compelling novelists in the nation" (Elle)
An elite platoon of Special Forces soldiers infiltrates a forbidding Afghan war zone on horseback in search of vast treasure in this lyrical, thrilling blend of military fiction and Western.
When Corporal Elijah Russells superb horsemanship is revealed during a firefight in northern Iraq, the young Army Ranger is assigned to an elite Special Forces unit preparing to stage a secret mission in eastern Afghanistan. Elijahs task is to train the Green Berets — fiercely loyal to their enigmatic commander, Captain Wynne — to ride the horses they will use to execute this mission through treacherous mountain terrain. But as the team presses farther into enemy territory, the nature of their operation only becomes more mysterious and Wynnes charismatic power takes on a darker cast. Ultimately, Elijah finds himself forced to make a choice: on one side, his best friend and his most deeply held beliefs; on the other, a commanding officer driven by a messianic zeal for his mission.
Based on the authors extensive interviews with Green Berets, Army Rangers, and other veterans, this taut page-turner brilliantly fuses the war novel and the Western into a compellingly original tale.
Tree of Smoke is the 2007 National Book Award Winner for Fiction.
One of the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year
Named a Best Book of the Year by Time, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Amazon.com, Salon, Slate, The National Book Critics Circle, The Christian Science Monitor. . . .
Tree of Smoke is the story of William "Skip" Sands, CIA--engaged in Pschological Operations against the Vietcong--and the disasters that befall him. It is also the story of the Houston brothers, Bill and James, young men who drift out of the Arizona desert and into a war where the line between disinformation and delusion has blurred away. In the words of Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times, Tree of Smoke is "bound to become one of the classic works of literature produced by that tragic and uncannily familiar war."
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