Saturday, July 31

Book Review: Paco's Story

Title: Paco’s Story

Author: Larry Heinemann

Pages: 210

Summary: Paco Sullivan’s story commences when his infantry company is sent to a fire base named Harriette, a place with a reputation for being as good as “going home and spending the night in the house where you grew up.” Despite precedent, a vicious firefight that becomes a massacre ensues. Paco is the only survivor - he is horribly wounded, a museum of wounds, left for dead nearly two days and discovered by a medic who is forever after incapacitated by his find.

We follow Paco back to the United States, where some years later he settles for washing dishes in a short-order restaurant. The Texas Lunch becomes the center of Paco’s life, along with the hotel where he lives. One provides the nettling companionship of his boss, a World War II veteran who likes the drink; the other, a young woman who continually reminds Paco that he is, in the minds of others, a curiosity, a souvenir - and worse But while apparently isolated, he is, strangely, literally haunted by the ghosts killed that day at Fire Base Harriette. Paco is chased and dispirited by the war, confronted by it every time he looks down at himself, or daydreams, of dreams.

This is a workingman’s tale, a vivid reminder that the young, blue-collar men of this country bore the deadly brunt of the long and unhappy Vietnam War. It puts forth endless ironies “more bitter than tongue can tell,” and both the ordinary and the almost unthinkable horrors of a G.I.’s life. As in other superb war stories of this half of the twentieth century, the richly detailed impact of the telling depends on frank language and blunt imagery.

My Rating: 7.5/10

What I liked/disliked about the book: Overall, I enjoyed the book. It was very different than what I normally read, but it was an interesting change. I also enjoyed reading this along with a group, for the Vietnam Reading Challenge read-a-long.

One of the first things the reader is exposed to is the blunt truthfulness, of the narrator. He tells all and isn’t afraid to say it. He speaks with anger, swears up a storm, and makes sure the reader gets all the images - the good, bad, the scary - of Paco’s story. For much of the book, the narrator remains a mystery, and I thought it was someone completely different than it was, but I still loved how the author portrayed the narrator, it worked so well, and allowed the reader to get a good grasp on Paco and his story, as well as what was going through his head. (If you’d like to read about who I thought the narrator is, go to the discussion question posts, I’ll provide links below, but I’ll keep quite here, so I don’t spoil anything.)

The book isn’t your typical war novel. This one focuses more on what happens to those after the war, although it does flashback, sometimes very haunting flashbacks, to the war, it mostly focuses on Paco’s life after the war; how his past has affected his present and Paco trying to find himself again and his place in society. Which I felt was a well thought out theme, you could say for the book. Because, of what little of what I do know about this war, after it was over, there was so many soldiers whose lives where forever changed because of it, and little help was provided. Little was even told about it, they mainly just disappeared, and now those that are left are elderly and hushed up. This book brings that trauma up, and shoves it in the readers face. I got the feeling that the author was saying ‘Look! This is what happens! Something needs to be done, should have been done. This is the “secret” everyone knows, but won’t speak up about it!’ This aspect of the book was probably my favourite part of it, and I think that if this was the message the author was trying to point out, he did it very well.

There wasn’t any one thing I didn’t like. The story kept your interest, although some of the secondary characters bothered me. And, one scene in particular wasn’t one I was to found of, but I don’t think there is one thing that sticks out. For me it’s small little things, one of them being, that I would have like to know Paco a little more before the massacre. But overall a good read.
Would I recommend it to read: I would recommend it. It’s not a light book; there are some startling scenes, and uncomfortable ones. Violence and violent sexual themes are in the book, so if that is something you aren’t comfortable reading (although who isn’t?) this, then it may not be the book for you. One scene in particular bothered me (it’s talked about in my discussion posts). But for the most part it is a good book, truthful and blunt, but in a good way, and shows a very eye-opening look at what happened to many soldiers after they came home from Vietnam.

What to read next: Tim O’Brien is another talented author, who write a lot of books on the Vietnam war. I also find he writes with a bit of truth and bluntness. Not as much (as far as I experienced) as this author does, but still worth it. The Wars by Timothy Findley (WWI), is also a fantastic read.
Challenges: Read ‘n’ Review, Pages Read, 100+ Challenge, 451 Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge, War Through the Generations - Vietnam

Although the read-a-long is over, you can still read the discussion questions.
Follow my links to get to mine: Week 1, Week 2, Weeks 3& 4.

Follow this link to get to the Read-a-long website, (Hosted by the same people as the War Through the Generations Challenges) and be sure to check out the others' thoughts.


  1. I have been following your read-along posts and have to say that I am very intrigued with this book, both in its execution and its messages. This is something I would really like to read, so thanks for sharing your insight on it. It is much appreciated!

  2. I'm glad that you enjoyed the book and found it a worthwhile read. It is one of my favorites from this war. I was happy to host the read-a-long with Anna at War Through the Generations.

    We're thinking of doing one later on for The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. Keep an eye out if you are interested...maybe Sept. or Oct.

  3. Glad you thought the book was worth reading, and thanks for participating in the read-a-long. That scene really is a hard one to read, and I, too, wish there was more info about Paco before the war.

    We'll get your review on the war blog soon.

  4. Zibilee - For me, the book did have a very powerful message, I hope you get a chance to read it soon, and share your thoughts on it with me.

    Serena - I haven't read a lot of literature on this war, but I did find it to be an excellent choice. Glad to have both of you as hosts, you did a great job. I've read The Things They've Carried, great book and a good choice for a read-a-long.

    Diaryofaneccentric - It would have been interesting to know what Paco was really like huh? Although it does add to the mystery of the character by not knowing. Thanks for the read-a-long.