Viet Man: A novel by D.S. Lliteras.

Viet Man: A Book Review

One of our favorite writers returns to write a review of a book written by one of our favorite writers.

Review by Karen St. John

One good thing about the post-Vietnam War era is the plethora of individual stories flowing into mainstream America.  In these firsthand accounts we get a hint of the horror our troops suffered under the command to serve and fight. We civilians have thus become more fluent in the language of war: C-rations, LZs, friendly fire, in country, behind the wire, etc. Yet only one word truly sum­marizes the entire glossary: Survival. Combat veterans fought for it every second. Families prayed for it every minute.

When a “novel” – a fictionalized account – of this war appears, one ponders, “Why bother? There are too many real stories to read.” The simple explanation of why Viet Man, the new novel by D.S. Lliteras, should be read is best said by the author himself: “No combat veteran is able to convey to a civilian what it is all about – it’s impossible. We remember glimpses of war – punctuated by actual truth. Nobody should want to be more than the truth.” Lliteras may think he wrote a novel, but Viet Man is truth.

Only one word truly sum­marizes the entire glossary: Survival. Combat veterans fought for it every second. Families prayed for it every minute.

A Vietnam veteran who served as a combat corpsman, Lliteras deftly snaps you to attention in the first paragraph: “You know, when you’re running away from a hornet’s nest to save yourself, there’s no time to ponder the meaning of life.” You know the hornet’s nest is in Vietnam. What you don’t know is that from that point on, Lliteras’s ability to paint a visual image, to put a thousand meanings into one succinct and profound turn of a phrase, has you walking alongside him, trying to survive, too. The Vietnam Lliteras effectively sketches for you to see, is not a pleasant one. It’s drug-filled, tense, raw, and aching. It’s all there to see, but you feel it in your soul.

You’re there with him on the recon patrols, smelling the stink of unwashed bodies, scratching the grit from your sleepless eyes, inhaling the fear, and sweating like crazy in the heat, checking for booby traps. It dives you in full gear to the water’s bottom looking for tunnels, gasping for breath as you surface.

Lliteras weaves in the dichotomy of potential death and fragile life in phrases that keep punching you between the eyes, like when his character meets his mates for the first time: “They were destined to become close friends, as well as distant memories on a black wall – a memorial not yet constructed.”

Now you get it. Now you get Vietnam.

On an intensely dangerous patrol, you witness the shocking ruthlessness to survive that separates you from your own. “I can’t remember how I discovered their intent to kill our six-week-old, boot-camp lieutenant, who had no business being our patrol leader.” Only when you begin to sense this pull between life and death does Viet Man step you back from the canvas – not to judge – but to get a broader view. In spite of the brutal reality of Vietnam, there is an undeniable bond between brothers-in-arms, knowing that this may be your last minute on earth. And this is the game changer. You find yourself nodding your head in agreement. Now you get it. Now you get Vietnam.

You survive to get off the plane that brings you back home, only to hear the jeers of a protester calling you a killer.

Don’t look for answers in Viet Man as to why the Vietnam War. There aren’t any, because Lliteras doesn’t bother to ask any questions. The character simply takes you to Vietnam, and moves you through his days and months with no true beginning, or final end.

The rest you have to decide for yourself. Somehow, I think that was intentional.

Lliteras didn’t stay in Vietnam mode when he returned stateside. He went on to get a degree in Fine Arts, became a deep-sea diver, a salvage officer, and a firefighter.

He’s a man who never sits still. But I’m glad he sat long enough to grab his notebook and pen, and write truth without the glory of war.

Welcome home, D.S. Lliteras.


Karen St. JohnKaren St. John has been a veterans’ advocate since 2005, concentrating in PTSD/health-care issues. Her oldest brother is a Vietnam veteran. Visit her web site at