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DelCorso's Gallery by Philip Caputo
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DelCorso's Gallery

by Philip Caputo

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Caputo was in Vietnam as a soldier, and later as a journalist, so he has no shortage of authority on his topic. But his Pulitzer was for a memoir; this novel isn’t anywhere near that league. It’s just plain clumsy.

Former combat photographer Nick DelCorso has retired into a quieter career in commercial photography, but that old itch refuses to fade. When he’s offered a job covering the final NorthVietnamese assault on Saigon, he can’t pass it up. Off he goes, leaving wife and family, to battle what the cliché mongers sell as “personal demons” in the streets of Saigon. DelCorso can’t rest until he atones for his past.

How clumsy can it get? Consider this, as the press corps huddles in a hallway during an air raid: “The terrifying noises had stripped them of the mask of cynical nonchalance war correspondents usually wear to conceal their true feelings, if they have any.”

Sentences like this abound.

There is no point Caputo is unwilling to drive home with a sledgehammer. When he isn’t telling us how things are, he’s explaining his characters’ improbably lucid thoughts. And when his characters aren’t thinking, they’re making little speeches to each other, such as this conversation, in a brothel:

“First it’s Biafra this, Belfast that, then it’s so many piasters for a short-time, so many for all night. It’s all bullshit.”

“Exactly what is bullshit?”

“This is, we are. We call ourselves photographers, photojournalists when we get high-toned about it, but what are we really? Mercenaries who carry cameras instead of guns.”

Wilson rolled his eyes.

So did the reader, reflecting that “This is, we are” was a fine bit of technical flash: the characters commenting on the author’s text. It’s a postmodern masterpiece!

Perhaps not.

Unfortunately, Caputo can’t find ways to dramatize his ideas effectively. Everything must be explained; nothing arises through the action itself. It’s too bad, because the novel tries to explore war photography and our changing attitudes towards war in an interesting way.

DelCorso seems to be a composite of Don McCullin and Philip Jones Griffiths, two of the new wave of war photographers that arose out of Vietnam. His arch-rival and former mentor, Dunlop, recalls David Douglas Duncan (who is never mentioned in the text), whose career took off in an earlier era.

Dunlop’s war looks heroic, DelCorso’s squalid and ugly; Dunlop is an artifact of WWII, and DelCorso belongs indisputably to Vietnam. Dunlop wants to find meaning in war, and show it to the reader. DelCorso wants to assault the reader’s complacent assumptions. To DelCorso, Dunlop is a fossil; to Dunlop, our hero is a pornographer.

The novel continually touches on all the questions that plague war photography: exploitation, responsibility, the pornography of violence. It’s unfortunate that it can’t find a more effective dramatic footing.
  ajsomerset | Jan 12, 2010 |
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Epigraph
From time to time God causes men to be born - and thou art one of them - who have the lust to go abroad at the risk of their lives and discover news ... These souls are very few; not more than ten are of the best.

Rudyard Kipling Kim
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For my mother and father
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He was composing a shot of O'Brien casting into the pool below the falls when he heard, above the water's rush and his, a sound like nothing he had ever heard before.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Nicholas DelCorso was one of the modern warfare's camp followers: a news photographer paid to record the horrors of war. A man obsessed, addicted to the action, driven again and again onto danger's razor edge to get an 8x10 glossy of all that was best and worst in man.

In Vietnam, as Saigon fell -then in Lebanon, a land running mad with blood and violence - DelCorso joined the rest of the press elite ... to get drunk, find a woman, dream of home, and wage war against war with a camera - trying not to think about the consequences ... knowing too well that sometimes the consequence was death.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0030582776, Hardcover)

A classic novel of Vietnam and its aftermath from Philip Caputo, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir A Rumor of War is widely considered among the best ever written about the experience of war.

At thirty-three, Nick DelCorso is an award-winning war photographer who has seen action and dodged bullets all over the world–most notably in Vietnam, where he served as an Army photographer and recorded combat scenes whose horrors have not yet faded in his memory. When he is called back to Vietnam on assignment during a North Vietnamese attempt to take Saigon, he is faced with a defining choice: should he honor the commitment he has made to his wife not to place himself in any more danger for the sake of his career, or follow his ambition back to the war-torn land that still haunts his dreams? What follows is a riveting story of war on two fronts, Saigon and Beirut, that will test DelCorso’s faith not only in himself, but in the nobler instincts of men.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:35 -0400)

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