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Poisoned Jungle Reviewed by Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com
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Norm Goldman --  bookpleasures.com Norm Goldman -- bookpleasures.com
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Montreal, QC
Thursday, July 22, 2021

 

Author: James Ballard

Publisher: Köehlerbooks

ISBN: 978-1-64663-114-8

Poisoned Jungle, JamesBallard's debut novel, reflects the Vietnam War with graphicferocity, portraying its horrible atrocities and evilness whilerendering the historical context contemporary, vivid, and chaotic.

The story is a grippingdepiction of war, with tremendous dark emotional and terribleramifications. One caveat: it's hardly a happy-go-lucky story;nonetheless, it begs to be taken seriously. It demands to be told andretold, reminding us of the futility of the war. And Ballard iswell-suited to write about the war having served in Vietnam’sMekong Delta as a medic, witnessing firsthand its calamities.

The narrative is framedinto three periods in the life of the narrator, Andy Parks, nicknamedDoc. In the first period, we read about twenty-year-old Andy in 1969,serving as a medic in the Ninth Infantry Division of the US Army inVietnam. We are informed that he is one-quarter Cherokee, who grewup in Afton, in northeastern Oklahoma. Before the war, Andy had neverheard of Vietnam.

The brief ten-week medictraining Andy receives before his service in Vietnam never prepareshim for the wounds, traumatic injuries, and dead bodies he wouldwitness during his time in the infantry. Each life that was losttakes a part of Andy, and invariably leaves him wondering if he couldhave done more, not merely for his fellow buddies but likewise forthe young children, women, and other civilians who were subjected tothe carnage and mass deployment of napalm and Agent Orange.

In the second phase ofAndy's life, he arrives home and experiences his own kind of upheavaland turmoil. Anti-war sentiment is rampant and he struggles to makesome sense of his existence. The expected elation of surviving thewar never actually emerges. The war stands between him and a returnto normal life. He keeps on reflecting on the fate of the servicemenwho were with him in his platoon and who are still waging war in theDelta. He is depressed, isolating himself, and slipping intoalcoholism.

GI benefits were wanting,including badly needed medical treatment. Veterans are met withinstitutional responses marked by indifference. Basic human supportand guidance in adapting to civilian life were never forthcoming. Forexample, when one of Andy’s friends is lying dying in a wardbecause of cancer after having been exposed to Agent Orange, the armydeclines to pay for his medical bills. The defoliant caused healthissues not merely for the Vietnamese but also for the Americansoldiers who fought in Vietnam.

Post Traumatic StressDisorder (PTSD) was again initially discounted, leading in manyinstances to severe psychological misbehavior. Andy was indeedhesitant to have kids of his own, for fear they would be born withbirth defects, something that had cropped up with a sizable chunk ofveterans who had handled Agent Orange. Eventually, he and his wifeadopted two Vietnamese children.

He knew the war had notended for him with the completion of his tour. Andy even goes AWOLwhen he is assigned to work as a medic in a veterans’ hospital toserve out his last six months of service. It is here where he comesin contact with the frightful suffering of the survivors of the war,and, in particular, Calvin, a veteran with extreme deterioration inall four limbs, leaving him dependent for basic bodily functions. Oneday, Calvin is discovered dead and Andy, who was the last one to seehim, is charged with murdering him.

The third part of the talefinds Andy emigrating from the USA to northern Alberta, Canada. Inthe ten years since leaving his home in Oklahoma, he had not hungaround in one place for more than a few months. While living inAlberta, he learns from a close war pal about one of his buddies whois on death row for murdering someone. It is in Alberta that he meetshis future wife, Lisa. After marrying, they settle in the Peace RiverRegion of Alberta where he becomes a beekeeper, selling honey for aliving.

What makes this novelstand out is that it takes an unsung medic and uses his story as avehicle to capture the heavy cost of the Vietnam War, inflicted notonly on the Vietnamese but also on the American soldiers. Overfifty-eight thousand American service members died and over onehundred fifty thousand were wounded. And this is not considering thethousands that were psychologically and mentally damaged. Vietnam wasthe most heavily bombed country in history. U.S. bombers dumpedtwenty million gallons of herbicides to defoliate Viet Cong hidingplaces. It decimated over five million acres of forest and fivehundred thousand acres of farmland.

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 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

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Dateline: Montreal, QC Canada
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