Cherries – A Novel by John Podlaski, 2010
Author John Podlaski contacted me personally and kindly let me have a look at his gripping and highly authentic Vietnam war novel, Cherries (aff). I made it out to be a really intense grunt’s-eye ride through the whole Vietnam GI experience, with no detail spared.
Written with a firm eye on authenticity, character development and atmosphere, a reading of Cherries is intense and wholly possessing. Similar to Matterhorn, I found it easy to forget I was reading words on a page; the overarching sensation is that of actually being there alongside the troop.
This high octane novel takes you through the whole nine yards of ‘Nam, following a grunt and his buddies as they ship out on a Pan Am flight to their base near Cu Chi, Saigon, a place that subsequently became famous for the staggering network of tunnels built by the VC to house and supply their soldiers.
I’d say this is definitely a book written by a soldier for soldiers, as a lot of the stuff written about contains the joshing and roughhousing typical of young guys in the forces. It’s good stuff though – the dialogue is sharp and the action is pacey and a lot of the main issues of the war (fear, racism between men, homesickness, bravery) are covered.
There’s some great descriptive stuff here. I liked in particular the passage where the wide-eyed “Cherries”, or new troops, catch their first glimpse of blisteringly hot Vietnam, with tiny brown wizened old ladies returning from their labours in the paddy fields, and the swarms of kids racing alongside the troop buses begging smokes.
I’d recommend this as a good read not only as it’s so personally involving, but also as it contains a lot of ‘inside knowledge’ on how it really was to train and fight in Nam. I enjoyed one scene where the Cherries are being shown the firepower of the various weapons used by both the US Forces and their enemy. In one scene a sergeant fires over the terrified groups’ heads with both an AK-47 and then an M-16 so they can learn what the different weapons sound like in a firefight.
There are some good battle scenes here, but also I liked Cherries as it gives really authentic descriptions of what the troops did and how they were on their downtime. Just like any group of young men, there was plenty of drinking, gaming, girl-chasing and general mischief. The young soldiers mostly seem to be in one of two gears; either totally laid back, drunk and having a blast with buddies, or petrified with fear when looking for the enemy out in the bush.
Cherries (aff) is recommended as both an action-packed but also truly authentic and affecting Nam novel. It’s obvious the author has put a lot of himself into this read and I imagine much of the material comes straight from his own Vietnam memories.