Tree of Smoke
by Denis Johnson
With the onset of PBS’s broadcast of the Ken Burns film series, The Vietnam War, it’s a good time to revisit some of the novels written about the war. Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke is one of the great ones. Winner of the 2007 National Book Award, the novel follows four main characters through their experiences in the war from 1963 to 1970, with a conclusion which takes place in 1983. Two of the characters are brothers of low rank in the military. The other two are high ranking: an uncle and nephew involved in the secret service. Although the book does a good job relaying the wartime atmosphere, especially the constant uncertainty, it does a great job of relaying the sense loss and grief. This book is not for the timid and it took me awhile to get through it, but it is definitely worth the effort. Denis Johnson was awarded the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction this past July. He passed away on May 24, 2017.
–Submitted by Barbara Evans, Reference Librarian