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In "The 13th Valley" John del Vecchio has created a work that is captivating, engrossing, immersive, authentic and heartbreaking. It is an intense account of the members of a company in the 101st Airborne division during an operation in the Central Highlands of Vietnam in August 1970. You learn what the soldiers are thinking, feeling, and dreaming. It is also a disturbing book in many ways. And that is as it should be. One's stand for or against the Vietnam War is immaterial. The reality for the men who served in Vietnam was surviving 365 days and most counted each day assiduously.
The book is a detailed and authentic account in the sense that operational aspects of company level combat tactics are related in minute detail. Of course, there's a certain level of violence and gore. After all, it's war. But the author doesn't dwell on that. A lot of the book's realism lies in its exploration of the day-to-day struggles that are, and always have been, the lot of an infantryman in the field. That is, misery in the form of exhaustion, filth, mosquitoes, leaches, searing heat, dust, torrential rain, cold, mud, hunger, thirst, and sleep deprivation. And the seemingly endless hour of mind numbing boredom punctuated by minutes of sheer terror when contact is made.
I don't know how many times I've read "The 13th Valley" since it was first published. Probably every three or four years. Each time I read it I learn something new. Listening to the audio book was time well spent. The narrator was excellent. Being familiar with the book, I remembered the location of units at particular points in time, how they moved around, landmarks, etc. I'm also familiar with military-speak, equipment, weapons, etc. Unfortunately, Audible does not make available a supplement with the maps or the glossary found in the printed version. The maps are referenced at the end of chapters as a summary of daily activities and are necessary to get a clear picture of where units are or have been, and how those movements relate to the overall mission. Those not familiar with military jargon and nomenclature may be overwhelmed by the terms thrown around. Not having a downloadable pdf file containing the maps and glossary was disappointing and will cause frustration for some listeners. I have to give the overall rating 4/5 stars based on that shortcoming.
I think John del Vecchio's "The 13th Valley" is a classic novel of the Vietnam experience in the same way that Norman Mailer's "The Naked and the Dead" and James Jones's "The Thin Red Line" are classic fiction from World War II. There are other excellent Vietnam novels, such as "A Rumor of War," "Fields of Fire," or "Matterhorn," to name a few. I've read those and many more. I can't say that "The 13th Valley" is the best of the lot; it's just my favorite.
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What did you love best about The 13th Valley?
The descriptions of the infantry way of life in the field during war.
Down to minute details, this book engaged me whenever what was taking place was in Vietnam. I liked how the units involved used tactics that conformed to the entire situation. I couldn't stop listening.
What about Sean Runnette’s performance did you like?
His voice transported me. Everything he said felt urgent and was driving toward the next action. Most of the time, I thought Sean Runnette disappeared into the story or merged into it.
Who was the most memorable character of The 13th Valley and why?
Cherry was probably the most memorable character for me, although there were others. Cherry had to adjust to the hardships, the ways that had already changed all the other men. I could feel how this experience changed him forever.
Any additional comments?
The parts of the story that occurred in the U.S. were conversations that often went over my head, I admit. But everything that took place in Vietnam grabbed me in full.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful