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In Pharaoh’s Army: Memories of the Lost War Tobias Wolff San Val


31st January 2012 History Books 35 Comments

In This Boy’s Life Tobias Wolf created an unforgettable memoir of an American childhood. Now he gives us a precisely and sometimes pitilessly remembered account of his young manhood – a young manhood that become entangled in the tragic adventure that was Vietnam. Mordantly funny, searingly honest, In Pharoah’s Army is a war memoir in the tradition of George Orwell and Michael Herr. –This text refers to the Paperback edition.

As a Vietnamese-speaking U.S. Army adviser to a Vietnamese division in the Mekong Delta, First Lieutenant Wolff began his 1967-1968 tour of duty convinced of America’s noble purposes; yet this intense, precisely observed memoir records his sense of futility and growing disillusionment with the war. His searing recollections underscore the inhumanity on both sides and the paternalistic, condescending attitude of American military personnel toward the Vietnamese people. Wolff (This Boy’s Life), who teaches literature at Syracuse University, is a remarkably gifted writer, and in this war memoir he charts with great candor his evolution as a human being and a writer. Through flashbacks we learn of his love-hate relationship with his father, an airplane designer turned forger and convict, and of his broken engagement to a wildly moody, emotionally troubled Russian aristocrat in Washington, D.C. Replaced in Vietnam by a more gung-ho, macho adviser, Wolff left the service and stayed in the San Francisco Bay area, where he was discharged. Then he discovered himself, and stopped feeling adrift, during four years studying English literature at Oxford University.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Whether he is evoking the blind carnage of the Tet offensive, the theatrics of his fellow Americans, or the unraveling of his own illusions, Wolff brings to this work the same uncanny eye for detail, pitiless candor and mordant wit that made This Boy’s Life a modern classic.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

In This Boy’s Life Tobias Wolf created an unforgettable memoir of an American childhood. Now he gives us a precisely and sometimes pitilessly remembered account of his young manhood – a young manhood that become entangled in the tragic adventure that was Vietnam. Mordantly funny, searingly honest, In Pharoah’s Army is a war memoir in the tradition of George Orwell and Michael Herr. –This text refers to the Paperback edition.

In Pharaoh’s Army: Memories of the Lost War

In The Garden Of The North American Martyrs: Stories

Tobias Wolff lives in Northern California and teaches at Stanford University. Author of the recent novel Old School, he has received the Rea Award for excellence in the short story, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the PEN/Faulkner Award. His collection of short stories, In the Garden of the North American Martyrs, is also available from Ecco.

Among the characters you’ll find in this collection of twelve stories by Tobias Wolff are a teenage boy who tells morbid lies about his home life, a timid professor who, in the first genuine outburst of her life, pours out her opinions in spite of a protesting audience, a prudish loner who gives an obnoxious hitchhiker a ride, and an elderly couple on a golden anniversary cruise who endure the offensive conviviality of the ship’s social director.

Fondly yet sharply drawn, Wolff’s characters stumble over each other in their baffled yet resolute search for the “right path.”

In The Garden Of The North American Martyrs: Stories










  • 35 responses to "In Pharaoh’s Army: Memories of the Lost War Tobias Wolff San Val"

  • David Tawil
    12:27 on January 30th, 2012
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    After reading “This Boy’s Life”, I had to read “In Pharoah’s Army”, even though I have no interest in the Vietnam War.

    The nice thing about this book is that even with a subject that I don’t care for, it is told from an individual’s perspective which can make or break any situation if told in the right way.

    Wolff comes through with this book too, by being very honest with his readers. He seems to be holding back a little more with this book than he did with his earlier memoir, but that appears to be more of a function of space and time considerations than of concealing information.

    Although there were things about his character that disappointed me, that made me like the book all the more due to it frankness.

    I hope that Mr. Wolff is working on a third memoir over the next phase of his life. I can’t wait to read it.

  • Satish KC
    17:07 on January 30th, 2012
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    These tales evoke a poetical kind of realism. “Hunters in the Snow” is a tragic but comic portrayal of three bumbling hunters acting dumb but believable: so in character with themselves yet slightly bizarre. Everything in these tales is real. There is no trumped up language or superfluous prose. The narratives sweep along with a good balance of dialogue, description and action, and are never boring. “Face to Face” is another good one–tragic again and emotional; you come away with a real sense of pathos. And none of it is asked for. The author doesn’t beg our emotions. It’s very real and very human. “Worldly Goods” is a hilarious tale but again with sober touch. “Maiden Voyage” is spot on in its portrayal of the bondage and meaning of marriage, and the allure of new love. “Passengers” is a terrific tale about a road warrior girl picked up by a straight-laced guy, the adventures they have and the effect she has on him–it makes you think, and it’s all our doing. We never get pandered to or have our feelings played with. And it seems so effortless!

    I would absolutely recommend this book. I don’t usually give full-throttle approvals, but with this book I can find no fault. Read and enjoy!

  • PaulTheZombie
    18:16 on January 30th, 2012
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    In Pharoah’s Army differs from many war books, in that it does not focus on the drama of combat, but on the frustration and disillusionment of the Viet Nam experience. Wolff has continually proven himself to be one of the best writers out there, and this book provides another shining example of his work.

  • Ripel
    20:09 on January 30th, 2012
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    Be warned… this is not an action packed novel based on military field operations. Wolff’s memoir takes the reader from the beginning of the Vietnam War to the end of his experience. In sharp contrast to E.B. Sledge’s With The Old Breed, this book plays out the author’s feelings and experiences in a very non-imbelished and descriptive way. During the Vietnam War 80% of active servicemen did not in fact see sustained combat in the forests of Vietnam, this book is a rare piece that reflects accuratly that percentage. I would rate the book a perfect 5, but it stays anti-climatic. Wolff has a witty diction that makes this book an easy read, and even easier to level with.

  • TrafficWarden
    20:33 on January 30th, 2012
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    As others have said, the quality of Wolff’s writing is exceptional. His prose is as lucid and tactful as any you’ll find today. This memoir – perhaps somewhat fictionalized, but undoubtedly less so than Robert Graves’s acknowledged WWI classic “Goodbye to All That” – will still be read decades from now for its emotional honesty in depicting the Vietnam career of an admittedly mediocre, though hardly conscienceless, young officer. And how many officers will admit in their books that they were mediocre? Reviewers who lament the dearth of sensationalism and battlefield horror in this book may need to reevaluate their understanding of what war is like. Novels require plots, real life has none. The picture that Wolff gives of Vietnam service as an SF adviser to the ARVN is every bit as true to life as more “exciting” memoirs (and in some cases maybe truer). Not every American busted jungle in a U.S. combat unit. Wolff came under some rocket attacks in his one-year tour, and that was about par for the course.

    Another problem some readers may have is that Wolff is a master of subtlety and juxtaposition. Episodes that seem not to “have a point” reveal their point when seen in the perspective of other things that are going on at the margins of, or in some cases outside of, the story itself. As an example, consider the title.

    Tobias Wolff is a memorable writer, and in its portrayal of a different kind of “‘Nam,” “In Pharaoh’s Army” is a minor classic of American writing.

  • John Baxter
    23:28 on January 30th, 2012
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    Pretty uneven, but there’s quite a few good belly laughs to be had here.

    This one is not nearly as good as “This Boy’s Life”, the narrator seems way too distant from his own life. Writing “coolly” about your life is a tough balancing act. On the one hand, you make the stories quick and easy to disgest, but on the other, you surrender a lot of authority to tell your own story.

    Overall, this is a little too close to Dave Barry or Erma Bombeck, but it’s still well worth reading.

  • Karla Shelton
    4:50 on January 31st, 2012
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    This short story collection from Tobias Wolff is truly just that. Each story gives you enough of the bare essentials to keep you informed and invested, but they never cross the line into anything remotely superfluous. Each story feels very much like you’ve entered right into the middle of things and you are there for the climax, but not necessarily the introduction or the conclusion.

    While I found this book to be an effective exercise in the art of the short story, I was even more moved by the flaws each character in every story displayed. Wolff had grand success in getting down to the heart of who and what people are, and that is, in essence, good people that usually display less than admirable traits. We all have those idiosyncrasies that make us unique and often troubling to our friends and family, and Wolff captures perfectly normal, though certainly troublesome, eccentricities amongst his characters that give us all we need to know about their particular story.

    This is a very fast and interesting read, and if you ever wanted to engage in a deep character study in the genre of the short story, this is the collection for you.

    ~Scott William Foley, author of The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II: A Collection of Short Stories

  • Satish KC
    9:30 on January 31st, 2012
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    These are fantastic short stories. I am only 13 years old and loved it. Wolff provides a fascinating insight into usand finds some startling revelations. While we may think we’re better than the people in the stories, in fact, almost all of us are guilty of some crime similar. He manages to keep the stories in good humor while maiking sure everyone sees the real meaning. I throgoughly enjoyed this book. I read the whole book in 2 days. I seriously doubt it would take anyone else longer.

  • Now what?
    17:57 on January 31st, 2012
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    I have read Tobias Wolff for about 5 years now so I was very exited to read this collection of short stories, and needless to say I was not disappointed. The first story I ever read from Wolff was “Bullet in the Brain”, and these stories followed in the same amazing tradition. Wolff is able to set the reader down in the middle of a scenario or time like no other author. This voice that he uses is so unique in each story and that you have a real sense of who you are dealing with in each story, and on a smaller level, each character. Wolff is able to create interest in situations and actions that border on plain on all other accounts. He creates characters that we see next to us on the bus everyday buy showing the reader who they are in the actions that carry out, and the how they deal with the certain situations they find themselves in. A hunting trip with friends becomes a look into the deepest crevasse of friendship; a fender bender turns into a trial in patience and trusting with people in everyday settings. Wolff is a master at writing these stories in a voice that speaks to every person, and yet is so unique that we must read on. This was a wonderful collection of stories and is highly recommended for any reader of fiction.

  • Ripel
    19:50 on January 31st, 2012
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    This book continues where THIS BOY’S LIFE left off, following Tobias Wolff into the Army and Vietnam. Wolff is very funny and very insightful, and he pulls you into the story right away. You get to know his friends, the “Army types”, the Vietnamese people, his (pathetic) dog, and his Stateside circle of intimates. These characters are all fully-drawn, especially his best Army buddy.

    This is not a humor collection of amusing wartime anecdotes; war is ugly, and nobody gets out unhurt. Wolff includes all of this, but he has a sense of irony about events, and a sense of compassion toward people. Also, each chapter can stand alone as a fully-realized short essay.

    I’ve read his short fiction and his memoirs, and I think Tobias Wolff is one of the most gifted American writers of this generation.

  • TrafficWarden
    20:15 on January 31st, 2012
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    I went to a lecture at which Tim O’Brien and Tobias Wolff were the speakers. Each introduced the other. Of Wolff, O’Brien said that he was “a writer’s writer” and that his prose rang true. It’s as good a way as I have ever heard anyone compliment a writer and it fits Wolff’s writing, especially in this book.

    In Pharaoh’s Army is a book in which I hear the quality of the writing. It’s not like some books in which the writing sticks out and calls attention to itself. Those books suffer because the writers obscures the story in an attempt to call more attention to themselves. Wolff’s writing here is clean, spare and rhythmic. The sound of it is that of a fine musician at the top of her form. Another musician could play the same piece, but it wouldn’t sound as sweet. Perhaps another writer could write a similar story, but the story wouldn’t carry the way Wolff’s does.

    Wolff picks up from This Boy’s Life but his tone has changed and Wolff’s character (both the character about whom he writes and the writer doing the writing) have changed. Wolff is older and wiser. It’s easy to feel the wisdom on the page especially when he describes his time at Oxford and how he couldn’t say that he went to Oxford, that it sounded hollow. Wolff isn’t afraid to write of his failures but he doesn’t dwell on them for their own sake. This isn’t an apology or an exposure for the sake of exposing. He tells a human story that rings true. I can’t ask any more than that of a writer.

    Read This Boy’s Life first and then read The Duke of Deception by Tobias’ brother Geoffrey Wolff. It makes for a good collection.

  • John Baxter
    23:09 on January 31st, 2012
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    Mr. Wolff captures the aimless feeling of late adolescence perfectly as he recounts drifting from job to job, sometimes on the spur of the moment. That same feeling continues through a tour in Vietnam where he presents himself as a somewhat inept bystander, after his discharge from the Army during a visit to his father, up through his acceptance at Oxford. The last chapter is particularly touching as he reflects on a friend lost in the war.

  • nedendir
    0:35 on February 1st, 2012
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    Tobias Wolff is one of those rare writers who’s managed to become an absolute master without becoming aloof. He’s a writer’s writer who’s actually fun to read. His characters are real yet surprising – in other words, like actual human beings. These are wickedly funny, wonderful stories, one of the very best debut collections EVER published. Unforgettable. You’ll read some of these stories again and again.

  • cjinsd
    7:10 on February 1st, 2012
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    The characters in Tobias Wolff’s short stories are typically ordinary people in relatively ordinary circumstances yet he creates through them such vivd glimpses of humanity that we recognize our friends ,relatives,neighbors and ourselves in them.
    Powerful writing that is subtle and yet somehow unforgettable.

    All of his short fiction collections are equally enjoyable and I would have a hard time recommending one as opposed to any other. This particular book contains several stories that will pull you in and cause you to want to explore more. This is a book that can be opened at random to any of the selections and read with great enjoyment.

  • Seano
    12:06 on February 1st, 2012
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    It is difficult to call a memoir from the Vietnam War enjoyable. Perhaps engrossing or compelling are better words. But I simply could not put this book down.

    Wolff’s crystal clear writing style is wonderful. With very few words, he captures the feel, the emotions and, in many cases, the morality of the incidents he recounts. In a short 220 pages, the author follows his almost accidental path from deck hand on a boat to army enlistee to paratrooper to officer to military advisor and back to civilian. The incidents he describes are entertaining. Some are laugh out loud funny. Some are sad. But all serve to either deliver lessons he learned or to describe the absurdities of war and/or the characters one encounters along the way.

    This very personal retrospective on Vietnam contains a wealth of both entertainment and wisdom. I recommend it highly to anyone interested in the personal side of war, and particularly to any man who wore a uniform during the 1960′s.

  • pop frame
    14:57 on February 1st, 2012
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    I was given this book to read for a History report/research project. It wasn’t a bad book. It had its draw backs. Didn’t neccessarily draw my attention too much b/c it wasn’t that interesting. It’s not action packed with alot of fighting going on. Some parts were disappointing b/c you would get excited as to what was going to happen next and there was climax but no falling action. I would have to say the reason I did like it was b/c it was down to earth, a very honest book. IMO it was a little slow moving.

  • TrafficWarden
    15:22 on February 1st, 2012
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    I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it–if you are not reading Tobias Wolff you are only cheating yourself. The man simply does not write anything less than absolutely mesmerizing. I assure you, that is not an exaggeration.

    This latest work of Wolff’s I’ve read is called In Pharaoh’s Army. It is a memoir offering us what lead to his taking part in the Vietnam War, his actual tour, and then the aftermath. Now having read all of Wolff’s work, I purposefully saved this one for last because I mistakenly believed I’d like it the least.

    I loved this book. Those of us born after the war have a notion of what Vietnam was like thanks to Hollywood movies, but Wolff gives us a totally different perspective, though no less horrific. Wolff’s memoir deals with the one thing nobody likes to talk about too much–fear. He was afraid to go. He was afraid while he was there. And when he got back, he was afraid of what he’d become. Wolff is not a weak man, you’ll gather that from his recounts, he simply does not bother to hide the fact that he was counting down the minutes until he got home, and he just wanted to stay alive.

    Each of Wolff’s chapters are like mini-stories, and they each offer the hilarity, absurdity, and sometimes tragedy of his life during that time. I was surprised at how much of the book is spent leading up to his deployment and then his eventual return. I’d say only half of the book actually deals with his actual time in Vietnam.

    As I’ve said, I’ve never experienced anything like this book and I completely recommend you read it if you are interested in either Wolff himself, the Vietnam War, or in the form and style of a masterly rendered memoir.

    Please, do us both a favor–read something by Tobias Wolff.

    ~Scott William Foley, author of Souls Triumphant

  • John Baxter
    18:16 on February 1st, 2012
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    I normally don’t read short stories. They’re often a little too compressed for me and perhaps a little obtuse. I know that’s a terrible generalization but I prefer novels, especially thrillers of some kind. But I chanced upon this collection of short stories by Wolff and totally enjoyed them. Wolff is a careful, skilled and very able writer who can take seemingly ordinary people and turn them into memorable characters. As the book jacket says, Wolff’s characters “stumble over each other in their baffled yet resolute search for the ‘right path.’” That seems to be the essence of each of these terse but pithy stories and that sentence sums it up better than I could. I enjoyed the book. Who knows, maybe I’ll start reading more short stories…

  • Karla Shelton
    23:38 on February 1st, 2012
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    I’m not quite sure what to make of this book. Wolff is a gifted writer, but it doesn’t seem like he’s got a whole lot to talk about when it comes to his time in Vietnam. Wolf portrays himself as an inept soldier, someone who got his officer’s commission by an idiotic stroke of luck. He even gives examples to back it up. A great example is a practice parachute insertion, when he mistakes a garbage dump for his intended drop zone and orders his team to jump.

    The more I read, the more I began to dislike Wolff. After reading the combat memoirs of men like Frank Miller (Reflections of a Warrior), Robert Mason (Chickenhawk), Bruce Norton (Force Recon Diary), and others, it’s hard to feel otherwise. He comes off as an extremely self-centered individual-not only in ‘Nam, but in every aspect of his life.

    On a side note, the book ends with a truly bizzare paragraph explaining the type used to print the book and a brief biographical note about the type’s creator. I have no idea what purpose this paragraph serves, but I mention it here because it is, by accident or design, one of the books most memorable parts.

  • Satish KC
    4:19 on February 2nd, 2012
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    There are those of us males who were on the leading edge of the baby-boomers – born in the late 1940s – for whom Viet Nam was an experience that forged our futures. After almost 40 years it is good to look back and try to make sense about what happen to ourselves – individually and collectively. Along with Michael Herr’s “Dispatches”, Tobias Wolff’s “In Pharaoh’s Army” captures the feeling of those of us who served. on the ground, in Southeast Asia and came home with no physical – and I must admit – very few psychological effects.

    Wolff captures the phenomenal sangfroid that Americans exhibited during that 95% of the time they were not being attacked – the other 5% was stark terror! Our inability to understand the Vietnamese culture or the war as it was being prosecuted by the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong is starkly portrayed. No better scene has been written that the “sighting” of taller than normal, Vietnamese strangers in the village bar drinking beer before January 31, 1968. The Americans recognized these men as not villagers but did nothing about it. They were North Vietnamese regular soldiers in civilian clothes infiltrating the American “secure hamlets” in order to kick off the 1968 Tet offensive. Our technology superiority was only exceeded by our baseless arrogance.

    This book is a great read! Pick it up for one of your summer books. If your are of the boomer age or just interested in your parents’ generation, you’ll enjoy “In Pharaoh’s Army” and get a feel for how hundreds of thousands of us lived a part of it.

  • PaulTheZombie
    5:27 on February 2nd, 2012
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    Tobias Wolff, in this collection, gives up short snippets of ordinary people’s lives. And yet the stories, themselves, have an eerie, almost transcendent power to them. It’s as though the telling of these events, with a keen eye for the hard-to-see significance lurking underneath the surface, lends them a sort of magical gravity. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the seemingly mundane things permeating everyone’s everyday lives may very well have a greater meaning. Not a readily discernible moralizing kind of meaning, but glimpses of what is true. I suppose it takes as sensitive an eye as the one Wolff possesses to discover those truths. I’m glad he at least shared a few of his insights in this collection.

  • Obladi Oblada
    11:03 on February 2nd, 2012
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    Tobias Wolff writes short stories pertaining to issues such as spousal abuse, envy, and lying. Wolff understands the conflicts his fiction characters face because he has addressed about those personal situations in his memoirs. His fiction is so real, it reads as nonfiction. Buy this book, buy them all. Wolff is an adventuresome author with adventuresome characters, himself included.

  • TrafficWarden
    11:28 on February 2nd, 2012
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    This not really a memoir of the Vietnam War , rather, it is the second memoir of Tobais Wolff who just happened to end up in the Vietnam War. Well,he ended up there because he volunteered but in the late 60′s you weren’t going anywhere else than Asia.

    It is short and written 30 odd years after his service and it is great.

    He has the knack of being extremely funny in the most gruelling circumstances.

    A highlight is going to the trouble, with his sergeant, to steal a 25 inch colour television so they can watch…………..a two hour Bonanza special.

    But then after all this trouble he does something incredibly human and gives it away to a local who doesn’t have TV and they have to watch Bonanza on a black and white set.

    There is actually very little about fighting or war stuff like that in the book. There are only a couple of incidents re countered where he nearly lost his life but basically it concentrates on the boredom and futility of the whole thing.

    He is proud to be there but he soon sees he’s surrounded by idiots – mainly fellow officers. This is a constant in any book about the military, – the officers are fools- there must be something in this.

    There is also a lot about his relationship with his father, who is a con man ex-convict. He spends a lot of time with him after his discharge from the army, and this is quite warming as the relationship has not been good due the fathers life style and what he has done to the family.

    I Lastly I wonder if Mr. Wolff has ever been able to buy another puppy.

  • John Baxter
    14:23 on February 2nd, 2012
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    I read this after This Boy’s Life which was terrific. In this book you get the same honesty the same dazzling writing. It’s hard to pin down but the way Mr. Wolff writes you REALLY feel like you know him. There is no pretension, no hype to his writing. No bs. Wolff has alot of anecdotes to tell about his youth. Off the top of my head I can recall his experiences watching Bonanza on tv. in Vietnam. It was quite a story believe me. And it touched on things like, the savvy of his second in command, the day to day life of a soldier… This book is filled with telling stories like this. You won’t see this sort of thing in your usual Vietnam memoir. Least I wouldn’t think so. I will say one thing though. Before I read any of Wolff’s work it seemed, from the reviews and the book jacket that I was in for a kind of dull book that had a way of obliging the reader to acknowledge it. Nothing could be further from the truth. This book has it all – chills, thrills, laughs. What a good read.

  • nedendir
    15:49 on February 2nd, 2012
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    One of my creative writing professor’s recommended this book to me, and I adored it! I read This Boy’s Life a few years ago, and while I enjoyed it, I wasn’t blown away. But, In the Garden of North American Martyrs has given me a new and fierce admiration for Tobias Wolff. Each story is well-crafted without being overtly so. Like Raymond Carver, the style is slightly sparse and gives you the feeling that these people could be your next door neighbors. The characters have that regular joe quality, but they are never ever boring, it only makes the things happening to them more potent. From the man who wrecks his car, to the professor who has a one night stand, each tale is piercingly believable without ever being dull. If you’re looking for the kind of short stories anyone could aspire to, read this book!

  • Satish KC
    20:29 on February 2nd, 2012
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    “In Pharaoh’s Army: Memories of the Lost War” is the second memoir from Tobias Wolff. This one deals with his time in the Vietnam War, hence the title. Written 30 years or so after he volunteered to join the army – in part to give his writing a purpose like Hemingway’s.

    Wolff’s chapters can each stand alone as short stories. They are not action-packed, but moving, written by a now seasoned writer who has had time to reflect. Wonderful writing, fascinating subject to see through his eyes.

  • Seano
    1:25 on February 3rd, 2012
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    This picks up where This Boy’s Life left off. While there are no characters here as vivid as Toby’s Stepfather, Dwight, from the earlier work, there are very touching scenes with his birth father, a man pathologically unable to tell the truth. Only about half of this book takes place in Vietnam, contrary to the impression you may get from the cover and the title. This is very different in tone from most books that deal with Vietnam. The self-pity factor is extremely low. At times it is almost like Huck Finn goes to ‘Nam. Readers anxious to know more about the dysfunctional Wolff family may want to seek out Geoffrey Wolff’s The Duke Of Deception.

  • Ripel
    3:18 on February 3rd, 2012
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    I read “In Pharaoh’s Army” by Tobias Wolff in two days. Not because I had to, but because it is the kind of book that pulls you in makes you want to keep reading until you’re done. This memoir is made up of short stories from the time Wolff spent as an officer in Vietnam. He tells stories from all the different aspects of his experience in Vietnam, from trading and bartering for a televisions set, to his take on the Tet offensive. Wolff doesn’t try to argue for or against war, he simply presents us with the things that happened to him and the feelings he had.
    Each chapter in “In Pharoah’s Army” is a short story about a certain event or person that Wolff came in contact with. He writes about his emotion with complete honesty, and makes you feel like he is a writer that you can trust. After regaining control of the town of My Tho after the Tet Offensive, Wolff writes, “The VC came into My Tho … knowing what would happen. They knew that once they were among the people we would abandon our pretense of distinguishing between them … they taught the people that we did not love them and would not protect them; that for all our talk of partnership and brotherhood we disliked and mistrusted them, and that we would kill every last one of them to save our own skins. To believe otherwise was self-deception. They taught that lesson to the people, and also to us. At least they taught it to me.” He makes no attempt to place himself above the war that he took part in. Wolff admits to the having the same fear, anger, and greed that everyone else has, and in doing so, makes himself a thoroughly believable and enjoyable narrator.
    “In Pharaoh’s Army” is comparable to, if not better than his other memoir “This Boy’s Life.” He tells memorable stories filled with interesting characters and valuable lessons, making “In Pharaoh’s Army” an exciting and unique memoir.

  • Juana Cruz
    6:38 on February 3rd, 2012
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    I’ve read most of Wolff’s work, and this is my favorite. The collection spans the colorful spectrum of human emotion and experience, yet there remains a pleasant aftertaste of familiarity in his characters that makes us identify with that life on the page.Whether it’s a tubby object of scorn, a disillusioned old man on his 50th anniversary cruise, or a young boy spinning tales for acceptance on a broken-down bus, we feel some sliver of our psyche being worked to the surface when reading these stories by Wolff. He’s one of the best storytellers of our generation, and you deserve to discover him. Favorite stories in this collection: Smokers, The Liar, Maiden Voyage, Hunters in the Snow and In the Garden of North American Martyrs

  • The Dealer
    13:45 on February 3rd, 2012
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    The best, tremendous, practically perfect, one of my favorites? Thats what everyone says in their reviews about Tobias Wolff”s short stories.

    “In the Garden of the North American Martyrs” is a quality collection, but alot of the writing is dry and outdated.

    Compared to other collections of short stories, Wolff’s collection just doesn’t match up.

    These stories were written between 1976 & 1981 and that explains alot. Several of the stories are really dull and the topics really leave off without grabbing your attention.

    Those stories that I did enjoy:

    Wingfield
    Poaching
    The Liar

    Although this book didn’t wow me, I’m looking forward to reading his newer short story collection “The Night in Question”

  • nedendir
    15:11 on February 3rd, 2012
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    Wolff is a fine writer, and the book is certainly readable, but it added barely anything to my understanding of war, Vietnam, the soldier’s life, etc. Frankly, I was disappointed, based on the previous work I’d read by him. Other Vietnam books, such as “Chickenhawk”, “The Things They Carried” (the latter billed as fiction) and “We Were Soldiers Once, And Young” really put this one to shame, and I strongly recommend all of them, without reservation, to anyone who might be interested in this subject. This one you can skip.

  • Satish KC
    19:52 on February 3rd, 2012
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    “In Pharaoh’s Army” is not your average war memoir, nor even your average Vietnam war memoir. Wolff joined the army because he wanted to be a man of honor and he trusted the government to use its soldiers well. Instead, he finds that while he is a better soldier than some, he is not the “wily, nerveless killer” that the Army wants him to be. He gets through Officer Candidate School (at the bottom of his class) only because he has the talent to produce the satirical revue for graduation night. New assignments repeatedly have little or nothing to do with his immediate prior training. When Wolff finally gets to Vietnam, he is sent to act as the American advisor to a Vietnamese unit, but with very little guidance as to what he is to advise them about. Tet is the only pitched battle Wolff describes, but the day-to-day challenges of mines, snipers, and being a white man in an Asian world make getting to the end of each day a triumph. Each day and every trip are endless until they are over. Survival has more to do with luck than with being a good soldier. Wolff’s title is apt: “Here were pharaoh’s chariots engulfed; his horsemen confused; and all his magnificence dismayed.”

    Wolff finds his honor in honesty. From the opening epigraph to the final paragraph, Wolff attempts to set it all down honestly, the lost war that is neither glorious nor action-packed. His prose is spare, straight to the point and yet poetic. The irony, when it comes, is devastating (and aimed at himself, as often as at others). Many of the stories would lend themselves to a more comic telling, but while the book is often humorous, Wolff always subtly reminds us that this is a deadly serious matter. The book is superbly structured, the selection and ordering of the stories designed to reinforce Wolff’s points. Wolff gives us a real sense of the uncertainty and terror that pervaded every day, that led men to do things they can no longer imagine or explain. “How do you tell such a terrible story? Maybe such a story shouldn’t be told at all. Yet finally it will be told.” I’m glad Wolff did the telling. Highly recommended.

  • PaulTheZombie
    21:00 on February 3rd, 2012
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    Sure, the writing was good, and if that’s what this book was judged on, then it should get good reviews. If you were expecting to learn anything about the war in Vietnam though, then this book would be a great disappointment. To compare it to Michael Herr’s “Dispatches” is a gross disservice to Michael Herr. He actually saw some of the war. Wolff was merely in the country at the time. What stood out most to me was the writing on his relationship with Vera and the one with his father. Good for writing and family interdynamics — horrid for info on life in the war.

  • Jolynn Ordona
    1:26 on February 4th, 2012
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    I read the back of this book and got very interested in it. I have read a few other books about the Vietnam War and this book was mentioned. It was a good experience reading this book from the man’s point of view. I really felt like I was there with him and his platoon–in the mud, in the jungle, in a helicopter–where ever the author was.

  • TrafficWarden
    1:51 on February 4th, 2012
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    Wolff’s short stories in this collection provide crisp narrative journey’s exploring humanity in its complexities, confusions, controdictions and emotions. It is as if a heart pumps underneath all the words in each story: they are that alive and that remarkable. I read this in one sitting weeks ago, and the stories and characters are still fresh and instant in my mind. Wolff is one of the best short story writers ever.

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