27 January 2009

A Dangerous Friend

There are not many writers as good as Ward Just. I can think of just a few--the others are Robert Stone and Graham Greene--who manage to write persuasively and compellingly about politics and war without feeling like a newspaper or like pulp. But where Stone and Greene mainly focus on outsiders of one kind or another, Just writes from the perspective of ostensible insiders; in this case, a true believer who comes to realize the flimsiness of the vision in which he put his faith.

A Dangerous Friend takes place early in our Vietnam adventure. It shares with The Quiet American a view of American preoccupations and methods as dangerously naive and tragically ignorant. In a way it is a small story, dealing with a single awful event in a war sadly full of even worse atrocities, but the reader can't help but feel its reverberations--it becomes a prism for looking back at the entire conflict and particularly our role in it.

Beautifully done, although once I started I was anxious to be finished--I kept telling people, "It's good, but it's not timely." At the beginning of a new administration in which I place a great deal of hope, it's hard to read about so much failure.

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