D.S. Lliteras' novel, VIET MAN, takes home the gold!
GARDEN CITY PARK, NY: In a year that commemorates the fortieth anniversary of Michael Herr's groundbreaking Vietnam War memoir, Dispatches, and with a new Vietnam War documentary from acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns set to air on PBS next week (Sept. 17), this is an especially relevant time for author D.S. Lliteras to revisit his own past in that war as a novelist.
Lliteras, who served in Vietnam from 1969–1970—first trained by the Navy as a combat corpsman and diver, he was then transferred to the Marine Corps as a member of the elite First Recon group during his tour of duty—was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in that war. He recently had the honor of seeing his most recent novel, Viet Man ($16.95, Rainbow Ridge), win the Gold Medal for Literary Fiction at an awards banquet in San Antonio, Texas held by the Military Writers Society of America (MWSA).
The MWSA first began in nearly twenty years ago in 1998, when Vietnam veteran and author Bill McDonald put together a website in tribute to his own Vietnam-era Army unit—The 128th Assault Helicopter Company—but also to all elements of that war as well. Over a period of only a few years, the website brought forth more than 30 million visitors. By 2003, McDonald's site had evolved from The American Authors Association into the Military Writers Society of America. The MWSA publishes a quarterly magazine—The MWSA Dispatches—and still hold as of the summer of 2015 the world's largest membership for a military genre writer's organization.
Published in March 2015, Viet Man is a novel shaped very much from Mr. Lliteras' own life experiences during the Vietnam conflict. Told from the perspective of a young man as he first experiences the confusion and frequent terror of military combat, the book even includes a helpful Glossary at the back of the book so that readers who have not served in the military can understand the meaning behind various words and acronyms that were second-nature to those who spent their days fighting "in-country" (which the Glossary identifies as an inside term for "Vietnam").
To date, Viet Man has garnered positive reviews from Publishers Weekly ("[An] absorbing gritty military novel . . . [Lliteras] wins the reader's admiration with his loyalty to and compassion for his battle-mauled patients . . . [he] spins his first-person narrative with laconic prose and acerbic wit"); Booklist ("Forcefully written, a nice mix of style and subject, and it has much to say about life and death and war and peace . . . Fine war fiction from a writer who's been there"); Karen St. John with This Is VietNow ("Viet Man is truth . . . [it] weaves in the dichotomy of potential death and fragile life in phrases that keep punching you between the eyes"); and The MWSA Dispatches, among others ("[A] powerful novel, eloquent while using the simplest of vocabulary and poetic in its clear-eyed imagery. Read it. Your understanding of this tumultuous period of our history will be forever enriched.").
Having just won the MWSA Gold Medal for Literary Fiction with Viet Man, Lliteras' newest book will be published next month (October 2017). Syllables of Rain: A Novel ($16.95, Rainbow Ridge) is a continued look at the Vietnam War experience but seen from the perspective of those soldiers who had returned home to the United States in the early '70s. Drawing on his previously celebrated exploration of literary craft and innovation (in addition to a solid background in theater as both actor and playwright), this new poetic novel from Lliteras has been written in a literary style akin to the Japanese haibun. In each of the book's sixty-four enigmatic chapters, a portion of the story is presented through a heightened prose that ends with a four-line capping verse. The new book has already been reviewed by Publishers Weekly as a "touching book [that] has some lovely phrases ('empty-shelled neighborhoods left to be repaired') and a satisfactory resolution," and more reviews of the book are on the way.
With our country's participation in the Vietnam War once again a topic of review and reappraisal here in the US and overseas, both Viet Man and the forthcoming Syllables of Rain give the words of D.S. Lliteras an important place at the center of this crucial discussion.