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Sunday, Sept. 19, 2004

THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF

Suffering survivor's guilt

PURPLE SUN, by Lawrence McAuliffe. Hinesburg, VT: Upper Access Books, 2003, 233 pp., $12.95 (paper).

In this short work, a U.S. Marine named Billy Kern cracks up and deserts his unit to remain behind in Vietnam after the war. Twenty-eight years later, a master sergeant and officer who knew him go back to Vietnam to investigate his fate. The formula somewhat resembles Michio Takeyama's acclaimed 1946 novel, "The Harp of Burma," in which a Japanese soldier remains behind as a Buddhist monk to do penance for his dead comrades in arms.

Alas the author, a former military chaplain, fails to deliver the cover's promise of "An epic tale of war and redemption," a letdown due at least partly to a lack of the kind of details that can only come from thorough research. For more convincing stories that bridge the Vietnam conflict with more recent times, readers might wish to peruse "Koko" by Peter Straub (1990) and "Up Country" by Nelson DeMille (2002).



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