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Tree of Smoke (2007)

por Denis Johnson

Outros autores: Ver a secção outros autores.

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2,409746,306 (3.54)158
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Once upon a time there was a war . . . and a young American who thought of himself as the Quiet American and the Ugly American, and who wished to be neither, who wanted instead to be the Wise American, or the Good American, but who eventually came to witness himself as the Real American and finally as simply the Fucking American. That's me.


This is the story of Skip Sands??spy-in-training, engaged in Psychological Operations against the Vietcong??and the disasters that befall him thanks to his famous uncle, a war hero known in intelligence circles simply as the Colonel. This is also the story of the Houston brothers, Bill and James, young men who drift out of the Arizona desert into a war in which the line between disinformation and delusion has blurred away. In its vision of human folly, and its gritty, sympathetic portraits of men and women desperate for an end to their loneliness, whether in sex or death or by the grace of God, this is a story like nothing in our literature.

Tree of Smoke is Denis Johnson's first full-length novel in nine years, and his most gripping, beautiful, and powerful work to date… (mais)

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» Ver também 158 menções

Inglês (71)  Francês (2)  Espanhol (1)  Todas as línguas (74)
Mostrando 1-5 de 74 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
The cancer of war.
Spreading like a plague from its epicentre, gorging on flesh, derailing minds, torturing emotions - only the strongest survive and then just barely.
An all pervading turmoil unbound by time or distance.
Entirely artificial, entirely human.

Tree of Smoke follows several characters in the Vietnam war, expertly leading the reader through its horrors from both sides of the engagement. Family, love, hopelessness, revenge, survival, purpose are all major themes, as they struggle with what truths they find in the choices they make. Anyone who has read 2666 by Robert Bolaño, should recall the chapter about the deaths. The saturated, desensitising prose so relentless to become paradoxically impressive. Tree of Smoke achieves something similar. What Denis Johnson has done here is capture war in all its atrocity.

I have now read five novels by Johnson and this is (so far) the jewel in the crown, despite its low 3.5 rating on goodreads, unsurprising, for two reasons:

1. War is a heavy subject matter which I doubt is every reader's idea of a 'good read' (I empathise of course and need time between books of this nature but war is so entwined in the human condition (sadly) that the subject leads to some of the very best writing - Birdsong, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Slaughterhouse 5, Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, War and Peace and of course, Catch-22)

2. I read parts of Tree of Smoke and listened to parts on audiobook, which was read amazingly by the actor Will Patton (of which I include a link to an excerpt below). Patton's handling of voice differentiation for the dialogues between characters was sublime and really improved the clarity and dynamics of their interactions, which my own reading in my head couldn't replicate (instead leading to confusion and rereadings). Johnson is such a skilful writer of dialogue - he knows exactly what other people would say that the characters sound like real people. Complimented by Patton's reading, the effect is very powerful. I wonder if people who solely read the book appreciated this element in the same way?

This book is a work of art, cementing Johnson in modern literature as one of its greatest writers (in my humble opinion). Although he is now lost to us, I'm thankful there are so many more of his offerings I have left to read. Jesus' son is apparently his arguable best - it will have to be one hell of a book to surmount what Tree of Smoke achieves. It is another symbol, in addition to the other important books previously mentioned, of why people should read, not war.

Will Patton reading Tree of Smoke:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdDOGebqZr8 ( )
  Dzaowan | Feb 15, 2024 |
After 130 pages I still can't find the epic. Enough. ( )
  postsign | Dec 28, 2023 |
Here's what I wrote in 2008 about this read: "Wow. Was Vietnam this bad, this hopeless, this full of men one is tempted to label "losers"? Reviews suggest this could be the defining novel on the Vietnam War; no wonder we as a nation are still getting over it." ( )
  MGADMJK | Jul 28, 2023 |
Joel's 10/06/07 review states in part: "Michiko Kakutani hated it. Frank Rich loved it. But only Salon got it right. This is a massive book, with a big topic (the Vietnam War) cross-referenced with another big topic (military intelligence), further complicated by big technique (multiple characters, heady mystery and homages to cultural classics -- Heart of Darkness, the novels of Graham Greene, and war cinema like Apocalypse Now and Platoon). Opinion on this book seems to divide between people willing to chew through a 600-page novel and those who don't have the patience. If you're game to meditate on something as unpleasant as a botched war and its covert operations, Tree of Smoke is highly rewarding."
That said, and in spite of much critical acclaim regarding this book, I place myself in the impatient group having trouble plowing through a longish novel and meditating on unpleasant individuals in unpleasant circumstances.

( )
  rsutto22 | Jul 15, 2021 |
Tree of Smoke is long, sprawling, and not exactly an example of a story with a tidy conclusion. It's focus is on a mostly doomed set of characters, who are all involved with the Vietnam War, mainly in the periods before and after the Tet Offensive. It includes the iconoclastic CIA veteran, Colonel Francis Sands, his nephew and fellow CIA operative, Skip Sands, the two Houston brothers from Phoenix, a Canadian 7th Day Adventist nurse who has lost her husband, the Colonel's Vietnamese driver and his nephew, the Colonel's helicopter pilot, a potential Viet Cong double agent, and a whole host of other characters trying to navigate their way through the war (and perhaps through Johnson's labyrinthine story.) But--it is Dennis Johnson--so, even if sometimes things as a whole don't work out, such as a few plot threads that I would say aren't quite wrapped up to my satisfaction, the writing is extraordinary, and there are scenes here that will stick with you for a long while, such as James Houston's first encounter with real warfare after thinking he was in a safe position guarding the Colonel's landing zone, or an assassin's preparation to kill the Viet Cong double agent, or a bar scene with an Australian dwarf.... It goes on and on. So many of the great scenes are not necessary to the story--but they are necessary to the book!

The atmosphere, first in the Philippines, then in Vietnam, is damp, hot, and oppressive. The hotels, streets, taxis, pedicabs, restaurants, and other locations are portrayed in vivid colors. There is no paint-by-numbers in Johnson's book. Nothing is generic. Everything, down to the beer and cigarettes is as real as fiction can make it. I listened to most of this as an audiobook, read incredibly well by Will Patton, but my loan ran out and couldn't be renewed, so I read the last 60 pages or so. I haven't quite read all of Johnson's work yet, but it is all extremely worthwhile, and this is no exception. Just be prepared to take your time. There's a lot here to mull over as you listen or read. This is not any sort of realistic fictional depiction of THE Vietnam War, but it is a few people's Vietnam War, and perhaps that is easier to understand, in the end. The book only has one real hero--and she is about as unheroic as they come. But she perseveres. ( )
  datrappert | Oct 6, 2020 |
Mostrando 1-5 de 74 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
The labyrinthine Tree of Smoke is full of hitches, tangents, but it reads exceedingly fast. It suggests a protracted war that moved in an exacting blur.
 
When a novel’s first words are “Last night at 3:00 a.m. President Kennedy had been killed,” and the rest of it evinces no more feel for the English language and often a good deal less, and America’s most revered living writer touts “prose of amazing power and stylishness” on the back cover, and reviewers agree that whatever may be wrong with the book, there’s no faulting its finely crafted sentences—when I see all this, I begin to smell a rat.
adicionada por dcozy | editarThe Atlantic Monthley, B.R. Myers (Sep 15, 2009)
 
In fact, since the publication of his first novel, in 1983, he has been preoccupied with the paradoxical notions of self-sacrifice and salvation in our modern world—but never before has Johnson’s writing been quite so haunted and harrowing as it is in his massive new novel, twenty-five years in the works.
adicionada por paradoxosalpha | editarThe Believer, Alec Michod (Oct 1, 2007)
 
Johnson's orchestration of these characters' intersecting lives is often graceless — as his last couple of novels have demonstrated, plotting has never been one of his strengths — and he has an unfortunate tendency to embroider their adventures with lots of portentous philosophizing about good and evil and religious faith. His heat-seeking eye for detail and his ability to render those observations in hot, tactile prose, however, immerse us so thoroughly in the fetid world of the war and the even more noxious world of espionage that they effectively erase the book's occasional longueurs.

Johnson not only succeeds in conjuring the anomalous, hallucinatory aura of the Vietnam War as authoritatively as Stephen Wright or Francis Ford Coppola, but he also shows its fallout on his characters with harrowing emotional precision. He has written a flawed but deeply resonant novel that is bound to become one of the classic works of literature produced by that tragic and uncannily familiar war.
 
Tree of Smoke is as excessive and messy as Moby Dick. Anything further removed from the tucked-up, hospital corners school of British fiction is hard to imagine. It's a big, dirty, unmade bed of a book and, once you settle in you're in no hurry to get out.
 

» Adicionar outros autores (7 possíveis)

Nome do autorPapelTipo de autorObra?Estado
Denis Johnsonautor principaltodas as ediçõescalculado
Abarbanell, BettinaTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Detje, RobinTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Patton, WillNarradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
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Fiction. Literature. HTML:

Once upon a time there was a war . . . and a young American who thought of himself as the Quiet American and the Ugly American, and who wished to be neither, who wanted instead to be the Wise American, or the Good American, but who eventually came to witness himself as the Real American and finally as simply the Fucking American. That's me.


This is the story of Skip Sands??spy-in-training, engaged in Psychological Operations against the Vietcong??and the disasters that befall him thanks to his famous uncle, a war hero known in intelligence circles simply as the Colonel. This is also the story of the Houston brothers, Bill and James, young men who drift out of the Arizona desert into a war in which the line between disinformation and delusion has blurred away. In its vision of human folly, and its gritty, sympathetic portraits of men and women desperate for an end to their loneliness, whether in sex or death or by the grace of God, this is a story like nothing in our literature.

Tree of Smoke is Denis Johnson's first full-length novel in nine years, and his most gripping, beautiful, and powerful work to date

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