Friday, March 20, 2015

Fallen Angels

I thought I’d step away, for a little while, from my usual topics about writing, and bring you a review of a novel I finished recently, Fallen Angels. 
If you’ve read it, you already have a lot of images going through your head: some good, some not.

If you’ve heard of it from uber-conservative friends, you’re probably thinking of it as some kind of pagan book full of obscenities.

Fallen Angels is a historical fiction novel (by Walter Dean Myers) set in Vietnam in 1968. History buffs will recognize this date right away, and everyone else ought to have a vague idea of what that date means. Coupled with the country, it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out what this novel is about.
But just to humor you, I’ll sum it up: It’s about a young New Yorker (from Haarlem) who joins up and is deployed during the Vietnam War. It follows him and his unit through its deployment.

I’ll separate my review into a few small categories, but first I want to discuss what I meant in the third paragraph above. Fallen Angels is real. I mean that in the sense that it shows war and people for who and what they are. Fallen Angels is about as gritty a war novel as you can find. It’s not overly gory, but it’s intense, and there are moments where even I – very not squeamish – winced and hurried on. If someone made this novel into a movie and kept its contents intact, it’d get an R rating for strong language throughout, strong violence, and some sexual references.
This novel is not a child’s book. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone under sixteen, and not to anyone with a weak stomach for violence and language.
Now that that’s over with, let’s get on with the real review:

Characters: This book is about a young fellow named Perry. He’s joined by a large cast of characters, including men like Monaco, Peewee, Johnson, and more. Each one of them is unique, and there are just enough of them that are quirky to make it humorous. The way they rub against each other in the wrong way makes the moments where they’re working as a team all that more real. They’re here to survive first, and friends just come as a byproduct.
A very real byproduct.
Even the way in which Myers deals with PTSD endears the reader to the characters. These aren’t the kinds of characters fangirls squeal over (in fact I doubt this novel has very many female fans to begin with), but they’re real. Lobel and Peewee become the reader’s best friend almost before Perry does. Even the characters we hate and those we’re supposed to hate are real to us. The Viet Cong are real people, even though, as it’s put by one character, “…they ain’t real till you know they names and what they eat. Then they real.” We don’t get any glimpses of the dietary habits of the enemy, but they’re still living, breathing beings.

Emotion: If there’s one thing this book does best, it’s emotion. It’s another one of those books that use the word ‘was’ well. It places just enough emphasis on things that are distant while making the constant tension, fear, and the almost-sick feeling of combat hang in the air. No two characters deal with what they do and what they see the same way, but each way is crafted wonderfully with just the right words.
There isn’t a single moment where the emotions are glossed over, even the ones the readers might not want to deal with. When the battalion (including Perry’s unit) have to burn the bodies of their dead, we see the shock, the desperation, the disgust, and the despair. Humanity isn’t sugar-coated, here.

Conflict and Resolution: Every chapter is filled with conflict. Some of them are little things, like which unit won the volleyball game, but a lot of the conflict is huge: skirmishes, suicide bombings, guerrillas and more. The characters live in a nightmare where they’ll never wake up. Right from the start we experience what it was like to be in Vietnam: from the heat and the bugs to the sicknesses to the landmines to the all-out firefights.
It’s not an easy read, especially when you consider how real these sorts of situations were, but it’s truthful.
The conflict forms a series of themes revolving around friendship and loyalty. Myers doesn’t cram in a bunch of patriot junk about being on the ‘right side’, he shows the fight for what it is: about surviving.
Lastly, this book ends at perhaps the best spot possible. I actually turned the page, hoping for more.
All I got was an ‘about the author’. *grumbles*
But then again, that’s how all endings should be.

I give Fallen Angels 8.5/10, disregarding whatever thoughts I may have about the mature content.

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