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Going After Cacciato


Going After Cacciato Cover

ISBN13: 9780767904421
ISBN10: 0767904427
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. Why do you think Cacciato journeys to Paris? Why not Brussels? Or Rome?

2. Why would Cacciato have planted a smoke grenade booby trap? Does it serve any practical purpose? Why do you think O'Brien describes the men's intensely visceral reactions to the smoke grenade in such detail? What insights does the event provide into the nature of marching through mined territory?

3. Berlin describes the story of Cacciato's flight as "a truly awesome notion. Not a dream, an idea. An idea to develop, to tinker with and build and sustain, to draw out as an artist draws out his visions." How does he manage to build and sustain this "notion"? Are there certain rules governing the construction of Berlin's fantasy? How does it differ from an ordinary daydream?

4. Going After Cacciato could be said to take place all in the course of one night of extended sentry duty on an observation post on the South China Sea, during which Paul Berlin remembers recent combat experiences and also imagines a flight to Paris. Why do you think O'Brien structured the novel so as to blur the distinctions between the three realities (the observation post, the combat memories, and the flight to Paris)? At what point were you aware of these three separate stories? How do they each intersect and influence one another? At what moments do they most strikingly bleed into one another?

5. What kind of relationship does Paul have with his father? What impact does it have on his behavior during his tour of duty? What significance do his childhood memories of playing Little Bear and Big Bear in Indian Guides have for him in Vietnam?

6. We are told on the very first page of the novel which soldiers die and of what cause. Why wouldn't O'Brien want their deaths to be a surprise? In contrast, why does O'Brien allow Cacciato's fate to remain a mystery until the end of the novel? How does O'Brien use suspense as a novelistic technique?

7. Is Sarkin Aung Wan a construction of Berlin's imagination? If so, what does her character tell us about Berlin? Why does their relationship remain chaste for so long?

8. In a later novel entitled The Things They Carried, O'Brien makes numerous observations about the nature of a true war story. "Often in a true war story there is not even a point. . . . You can tell a true war story by the way it never seems to end. . . . It's safe to say in a true war story nothing is ever absolutely true. . . . In any war story, especially a true one, it's difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen." How is Going After Cacciato an elaboration of these ideas? Which parts of the novel represent "true war stories"?

9. What does the Viet Cong Major Li Van Hgoc mean when he says, "the land is your enemy"? How does he confirm Berlin's own suspicions about the country's animosity toward the U.S. troops?

10. If the journey to Paris is in Berlin's imagination, why does he get beaten by the monks in Mandalay? Or arrested in Iran? Why does Sarkin Aung Wan leave him? Why must his imagined journey after Cacciato be full of so much emotional and physical pain?

11. Is there any significance to the fact that the story keeps returning to one particular night of watch duty at an observation post on the South China Sea? Why does Berlin weave the tale of Cacciato's flight on this particular night?

12. Does the debate with Captain Fahyi Rhallon over desertion shed any light on the legitimacy of the squad's current pursuit of Cacciato? Do you think the squad is deserting from the war, or executing a military mission? How does Berlin manage to keep the distinctions blurry for the entire length of the novel?

13. Berlin thinks, "You could run, but you couldn't outrun the consequences of running. Not even in imagination." Why can't Berlin imagine deserting without letting the consequences sneak into his fantasies? What role does guilt play in the construction of Berlin's fantasy?

14. In chapter 42, Berlin muses that this war is "a war like any war. No new messages. Stories that began and ended without transition. No developing drama or tension or direction. No order." How does Going After Cacciato reflect these notions? How does it contradict them?

15. How accurate is Berlin's perception that "peace was shy. That was one lesson: Peace never bragged. If you didn't look for it, it wasn't there"?

16. Why does O'Brien leave Cacciato's fate unanswered?

17. A New York Times reviewer wrote, "To call Going After Cacciato a novel about war is like calling Moby-Dick a novel about whales." What did the reviewer mean by that? Do you agree? If Going After Cacciato is not about war, what do you think it is about?

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jacksmyth, November 21, 2014 (view all comments by jacksmyth)
It might have not been thought possible for a novel to cover half the globe and still be regarded as a primarily Vietnam war story, but Going After Cacciato accomplishes this and much more. This novel is about the war, yes, but more than that it is about war as a catalyst for human emotions. The plot follows Paul Berlin and his platoon’s search for an AWOL soldier named Cacciato. The story is non-linear and since it is told from Paul Berlin’s point-of-view it can’t always be regarded as “the truth”. That being said, the author, Tim O’Brien, balances perfectly on the line of making the audience too confused. The result is an unmatched intrigue that makes for rapid consumption of the novel. I cannot recall a moment of boredom in my short time reading this novel because if you aren’t reading the novel, you are thinking about it. When reading this novel it is important to have your brain turned on because it’s initially a little hard to keep track of who is where at what time, but after a while there is adjustment and the picture is more clear.
The Vietnam war was fought for a long time for questionable reasons, and this war had a profound effect on many writers at the time, one of them was Tim O’Brien. In Going after Cacciato O’Brien focuses on the absurdities of war and the struggle of realism in the face of horrors. He talks about fear and its relation to bravery, “The issue was not fearlessness. The issue was how to act wisely in spite of fear” (O’Brien, 80). He also touches on the subject of obligations. Obligations to your country, to your family, and to your friends. It makes you ask if there is an obligation that each and every individual has to try to garner as much joy from the world as possible for themselves. Is this final obligation valued more or less than the initial three? In Going after Cacciato it depends on which character you asked.
This novel has a plethora of lively characters. Many characters and names are just thrown at the audience in the beginning, but after a while the important ones stick and create characters that are memorable and fun. From Doc Peret’s M&M medicine to Cacciato’s strange, but lovable quirks, it is easy to visualize these characters and even imagine them interacting in real life.
I would highly recommend this book to most people. There are some exceptions though, for example: if you have the political view that the Vietnam war was a raging success and that war is a grand ol time… than maybe some of the book’s main themes might not be apparent to you. That being said, even if you are in that category, you may still pick up the book and enjoy Tim O’Brien’s unique and pleasant writing style. His beautiful and spot-on-accurate description of Vietnam topography and human emotions are enough to give the book a try.
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lukas, June 14, 2014 (view all comments by lukas)
As good, perhaps even better than his classic "The Things They Carried." Like that book, O'Brien is interested in the stories of the soldiers and how they cope and survive in a crappy war, not in politics or half-assed, Hemingway-esque philosophizing about men in war. After a soldier ditches his unit to walk to Paris, some of his buddies try to track him down, which gives it a somewhat more unusual feel than most war books. Other good Vietnam books: "Tree of Smoke," "Dispatches," "Matterhorn," "Dog Soldiers," "Kill Anything That Moves."
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connorpeterson9, May 15, 2011 (view all comments by connorpeterson9)
The novel Going After Cacciato is an amazing story of how soldiers were able to cope with the hardships of the Vietnam War. The novel takes place in Vietnam during the controversial Vietnam War. The tale is told through the eyes of Private Paul Berlin, as he creates a dream where one of his platoon members, Cacciato, runs away to Paris. Paul’s mission is to catch Cacciato, a deserter and dreams helped Paul Berlin cope with the war. During the dream, Paul was able to escape to a beautiful and peaceful city, which for the short duration allowed an outlet from the horrors of war.
Tim O’Brien also utilizes many literary elements to demonstrate how the ideas of confusion, boredom, beauty, and fear affect the soldiers as they are fighting the war. The novel is split into short and long chapters, which are not in chronological order. The use of short chapters illustrates how war can be very demanding, but once the battle is done the soldiers have to cope with extreme boredom until they are forced to fight again. O’Brien also uses Paris, France as a symbol for peace and tranquility. This symbol is essential to the novel because Paul Berlin and his platoon purposely desert the war to catch Cacciato who is planning to reach Paris. Therefore the soldiers love the idea of leaving the war and living stress free in France. Finally, a theme found within the novel is always looking for the good things while at war. This theme was advice from Paul Berlin’s father as he was talking to his son before he went to war. This theme is present within the novel because Paul Berlin purposely creates a story so he could stay positive, and look for the good that takes place around the world.
Overall Tim O’Brien’s novel is a must read for anyone who loves war stories. The narrator takes the reader on an emotional roller coaster as war can create many different emotions within the soldiers. The tale takes a platoon of soldiers who disagree with the war, and follows them across the continent of Asia and into France as they chase a deserting platoon member, Cacciato. The novel demonstrates how soldiers cope with the atrocities of war, the constant boredom of war, and the psychological trauma that comes with war. The best part about O’Brien’s writing style is how personal he can make the story feel. As the story is told in third person, and third person omniscient the reader feels everything the narrator is feeling as the story unfolds. In the novel, O’Brien addresses the controversial War by focusing on characters that fought in spite of their disapproval for the war. Anyone who is interested in learning more about the Vietnam War, a tale about soldiers looking for peace, or a great War story should definitely read this amazing book. Finally, if you enjoyed O’Brien’s other novel, The Things They Carried, this novel is a perfect fit for you.

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Product Details

O'Brien, Tim
Broadway Books
New York :
Vietnamese conflict, 1961-1975
War stories
Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975 -- Fiction.
Vietnamese Conflict, 19
War & Military
General Fiction
Popular Fiction-Military
Edition Description:
1st Broadway Books trade paperback ed.
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.04x5.24x.98 in. .68 lbs.

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Going After Cacciato Used Trade Paper
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Product details 352 pages Broadway Books - English 9780767904421 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , In the jungles of Indochina, Private Cacciato decides to lay down his rifle and embark on a quixotic walk to Paris, leaving in his wake a trail of M&M candies and a platoon intent on bringing him back to the war — and to reality.
"Synopsis" by , "To call Going After Cacciato a novel about war is like calling Moby-Dick a novel about whales."

So wrote The New York Times of Tim O'Brien's now classic novel of Vietnam. Winner of the 1979 National Book Award, Going After Cacciato captures the peculiar mixture of horror and hallucination that marked this strangest of wars.

In a blend of reality and fantasy, this novel tells the story of a young soldier who one day lays down his rifle and sets off on a quixotic journey from the jungles of Indochina to the streets of Paris. In its memorable evocation of men both fleeing from and meeting the demands of battle, Going After Cacciato stands as much more than just a great war novel. Ultimately it's about the forces of fear and heroism that do battle in the hearts of us all.

"Synopsis" by , It was a bad time. Billy Boy Watkins was dead, and so was Frenchie Tucker. Billy Boy had died of fright, scared to death on the field of battle, and Frenchie Tucker had been shot through the nose. Bernie Lynn and Lieutenant Sidney Martin had died in tunnels. Pederson was dead and Rudy Chassler was dead. Buff was dead. Ready Mix was dead. They were all among the dead. The rain fed fungus that grew in the men's boots and socks, and their socks rotted, and their feet turned white and soft so that the skin could be scraped off with a fingernail, and Stink Harris woke up screaming one night with a leech on his tongue. When it was not raining, a low mist moved across the paddies, blending the elements into a single gray element, and the war was cold and pasty and rotten. Lieutenant Corson, who came to replace Lieutenant Sidney Martin, contracted the dysentery. The tripflares were useless. The ammunition corroded and the foxholes filled with mud and water during the nights, and in the mornings there was always the next village, and the war was always the same. The monsoons were part of the war. In early September Vaught caught an infection. He'd been showing Oscar Johnson the sharp edge on his bayonet, drawing it swiftly along his forearm to peel off a layer of mushy skin. "Like a Gillette Blue Blade," Vaught had said proudly. There was no blood, but in two days the bacteria soaked in and the arm turned yellow, so they bundled him up and called in a dustoff, and Vaught left the war. He never came back. Later they had a letter from him that described Japan as smoky and full of slopes, but in the enclosed snapshot Vaught looked happy enough, posing with two sightly nurses, a wine bottle rising from between his thighs. It was a shock to learn he'd lost the arm. Soon afterward Ben Nystrom shot himself through the foot, but he did not die, and he wrote no letters. These were all things to joke about. The rain, too. And the cold. Oscar Johnson said it made him think of Detroit in the month of May. "Lootin' weather," he liked to say. "The dark an' gloom, just right for rape an' lootin'." Then someone would say that Oscar had a swell imagination for a darkie.

That was one of the jokes. There was a joke about Oscar. There were many jokes about Billy Boy Watkins, the way he'd collapsed of fright on the field of battle. Another joke was about the lieutenant's dysentery, and another was about Paul Berlin's purple biles. There were jokes about the postcard pictures of Christ that Jim Pederson used to carry, and Stink's ringworm, and the way Buff's helmet filled with life after death. Some of the jokes were about Cacciato. Dumb as a bullet, Stink said. Dumb as a month-old oyster fart, said Harold Murphy.

In October, near the end of the month, Cacciato left the war.

"He's gone away," said Doc Peret. "Split, departed."

Lieutenant Corson did not seem to hear. He was too old to be a lieutenant. The veins in his nose and cheeks were broken. His back was weak. Once he had been a captain on the way to becoming a major, but whiskey and the fourteen dull years between Korea and Vietnam had ended all that, and now he was just an old lieutenant with the dysentery.

He lay on his back in the pagoda, naked except for green socks and green undershorts.

"Cacciato," Doc repeated. "The kid's left us. Split for parts unknown."

The lieutenant did not sit up. With one hand he cupped his belly, with the other he guarded a red glow. The surfaces of his eyes were moist.

"Gone to Paris," Doc said.

The lieutenant put the glow to his lips. Inhaling, his chest did not move. There were no vital signs in the wrists or thick stomach.

"Paris," Doc Peret repeated. "That's what he tells Paul Berlin, and that's what Berlin tells me, and that's what I'm telling you. The chain of command, a truly splendid instrument. Anyhow, the guy's definitely gone. Packed up and retired."

The lieutenant exhaled. Blue gunpowder haze produced musical sighs in the gloom, a stirring at the base of Buddha's clay feet. "Lovely," a voice said. Someone else sighed. The lieutenant blinked, coughed, and handed the spent roach to Oscar Johnson, who extinguished it against his toenail.

"Paree?" the lieutenant said softly. "Gay Paree?"

Doc nodded. "That's what he told Paul Berlin and that's what I'm telling you. Ought to cover up, sir."

Sighing, swallowing hard, Lieutenant Corson pushed himself up and sat stiffly before a can of Sterno. He lit the Sterno and placed his hands behind the flame and bent forward to draw in heat. Outside, the rain was steady. "So," the old man said. "Let's figure this out." He gazed at the flame. "Trick is to think things clear. Step by step. You said Paree?"

"Affirm, sir. That's what he told Paul Berlin, and that's--"


"Right here, sir. This one."

The lieutenant looked up. His eyes were bright blue and wet. Paul Berlin pretended to smile.



"Jeez," the old man said, shaking his head. "I thought you were Vaught."


"I thought he was you. How . . . how do you like that? Mixed up, I guess. How do you like that?"

"Fine, sir."

The lieutenant shook his head sadly. He held a boot to dry over the burning Sterno. Behind him in shadows was the crosslegged Buddha, smiling from its elevated stone perch. The pagoda was cold. Dank from a month of rain, the place smelled of clays and silicates and dope and old incense. It was a single square room built like a pillbox with stone walls and a flat ceiling that forced the men to stoop or kneel. Once it might have been a fine house of worship, neatly tiled and painted, but now it was junk. Sandbags blocked the windows. Bits of broken pottery lay under chipped pedestals. The Buddha's right arm was missing but the smile was intact. Head cocked, the statue seemed interested in the lieutenant's long sigh. "So. Cacciato, he's gone. Is that it?"

"There it is," Doc said. "You've got it."

Paul Berlin nodded.

"Gone to gay Paree. Am I right? Cacciato's left us in favor of Paree in France." The lieutenant seemed to consider this gravely. Then he giggled. "Still raining?"

"A bitch, sir."

"I never seen rain like this. You ever? I mean, ever?"

"No," Paul Berlin said. "Not since yesterday."

"And I guess you're Cacciato's buddy. Is that the story?"

"No, sir," Paul Berlin said. "Sometimes he'd tag along. Not really."

"Who's his buddy?"

"Nobody. Maybe Vaught. I guess Vaught was, sometimes."

"Well," the lieutenant murmured. He paused, dropping his nose inside the boot to sniff the sweating leather. "Well, I reckon we better get Mister Vaught in here. Maybe he can straighten this shit out."

"Vaught's gone, sir. He's the one--"

"Mother of Mercy."

Doc draped a poncho over Lieutenant Corson's shoulders. The rain was steady and thunderless and undramatic. It was mid-morning, but the feeling was of endless dusk.

The lieutenant picked up the second boot and began drying it. For a time he did not speak. Then, as if amused by something he saw in the flame, he giggled again and blinked. "Paree," he said. "So Cacciato's gone off to gay Paree--bare ass and Frogs everywhere, the Follies Brassiere." He glanced up at Doc Peret. "What's wrong with him?"

"Just dumb. He's just awful dumb, that's all."

"And he's walking. You say he's walking to gay Paree?"

"That's what he claims, sir, but you can't trust--"

"Paree! Jesus Christ, does he know how far it is? I mean, does he know?"

Paul Berlin tried not to smile. "Eight thousand six hundred statute miles, sir. That's what he told me--eight thousand six hundred on the nose. He had it down pretty good. Rations, fresh water, a compass, and maps and stuff."

"Maps," the lieutenant said. "Maps, flaps, schnaps." He coughed and spat, then grinned. "And I guess he'll just float himself across the ocean on his maps, right? Am I right?"

"Well, not exactly," said Paul Berlin. He looked at Doc Peret, who shrugged. "No, sir. He showed me how . . . See, he says he's going up through Laos, then into Burma, and then some other country, I forget, and then India and Iran and Turkey, and then Greece, and the rest is easy. That's what he said. The rest is easy, he said. He had it all doped out."

"In other words," the lieutenant said, and hesitated. "In other words, fuckin AWOL."

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