The Cat from Hue: A Vietnam War Story

Laurence, John

Published by PublicAffairs, 2002
ISBN 10: 1891620312 / ISBN 13: 9781891620317
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Synopsis: An evocative, vividly detailed memoir of the madness and miracles of the Vietnam War by an award-winning reporter whose experiences in combat-and whose relationship with a Vietnamese cat named Meo-have haunted and inspired him for more than twenty-five years. John Laurence covered the Vietnam War for CBS News from 1965 to 1970 and was judged by his colleagues to be the best television reporter of the war. He lived with a squad of American soldiers in the jungles of War Zone C to produce an unforgettable documentary, The World of Charlie Company, which won every major award for broadcast journalism and also the George Polk memorial award for "best reporting in any medium requiring exceptional courage and enterprise abroad. " Despite the professional acclaim, the traumatic stories Laurence covered became a personal burden that he brought home and carried long after the war was over. The result is this passionate memoir about what he witnessed there, laced with humor, anger, love, and the unforgettable story of a very idiosyncratic cat who was determined to play his part in the Vietnam revolution. In reconstructing his experiences, Laurence relied not only on his notes and memory and formidable literary skill, but on dozens of hours of film footage shot at the time, giving the book an uncanny power and fidelity to facts. The Cat from Hue is full of bizarre stories of unknown soldiers and famous journalists and generals, of incredible humanity and tenderness and also corruption and cowardice, of the worlds of the American grunt and of the Vietnamese civilian, and of the price of survival and sanity. Along the way, it clarifies the history of that murky war and illuminates the role that journalists played in it. This book will stand with Michael Herr's Dispatches, Philip Caputo's A Rumor of War, and Ward Just's To What End as one of the best ever written about Vietnam.

Review: With over half a decade of service as a war correspondent in Vietnam, John Laurence earned deserved accolades for his reportage, especially for his documentary The World of Charlie Company. In this superb book, The Cat from Hue, he returns to that time, drawing on long-buried memories to capture the confusion, deceit, and terror of the era.

In 1968, John Laurence unhappily found himself dodging bullets and poking among ruins of the ancient Vietnamese city of Hue, eventually wandering square into the sights of a gun held by a North Vietnamese soldier, who could easily have shot him dead but did not. It was not his first encounter with mortal danger, and not his last; as this long, intricately constructed memoir unfolds, death greets the reader on nearly every page, along with the more mundane facts of war--the language of soldiers, the things they carried, the numbed resignation to battle as "an edge against fear." (Superstition plays a role, too: Laurence figured that the "coins, charms, four-leaf clovers, religious medals and all kinds of talismans" that he kept with him would somehow shield him from bullets, as perhaps they did.) In the company of a shell-shocked kitten, the cat of his book's title, Laurence goes on to document the lives and deaths of young soldiers during the invasion of Cambodia, men who, though personally decent in the main, were part of "a monster that inflicted so much random violence and death it produced an entire new body of evil, a catalogue of cruelty that overshadowed any possible virtue that might have come from defeating the Communists."

Harrowing, sometimes hallucinatory, written from among the weeds and rubble, and one of the best in a crowded field, Laurence's book deserves the widest possible audience. --Gregory McNamee

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Title: The Cat from Hue: A Vietnam War Story
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Publication Date: 2002
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Used: Good

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