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Arbol de humo by Denis Johnson
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Arbol de humo (original 2007; edition 2010)

by Denis Johnson, Javier Calvo (Translator)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,818643,846 (3.57)88
Member:kalizarbas2
Title:Arbol de humo
Authors:Denis Johnson
Other authors:Javier Calvo (Translator)
Info:Debolsillo 2010-05-01 (2010), Edición: Tra, Paperback, 595 páginas
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:2013

Work details

Tree of Smoke: A Novel by Denis Johnson (2007)

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» See also 88 mentions

English (61)  French (2)  Spanish (1)  All (64)
Showing 1-5 of 61 (next | show all)
Pretty good, especially after it got going. Didn't care for the last chapter of the book, which concludes without, I think, really plumbing the depths of the themes hinted at earlier in the book. For my money, Tim O'Brien still gives the definitive literary interpretation of the war in Viet Nam. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
One of the best audiobooks I have listened to in a very long time. Will Patton is without equal when it comes to reading American classics. His interpretation is virtuoso without upstaging the material. Did not want this to end. ( )
  byebyelibrary | Jun 25, 2016 |
Not a typical book for me at all but I could not put it down. It's so easy to read despite being quite dark and cynical. ( )
  ltfitch1 | Jun 5, 2016 |
TREE OF SMOKE, by Denis Johnson.

Wow! Double wow even. Whatever I say about Johnson's book couldn't begin to describe what a magnificent accomplishment it is. It's one of those books that, had Johnson written no other books, would still cement his reputation in the canon of American literature. Filled with rich, fully realized characters and descriptions of the whole Vietnam era - and its long-lasting and far-reaching repercussions - TREE OF SMOKE is a book that will stick with me for a long time. CIA operatives Skip Sands, his larger-than-life uncle, "the colonel" F.X. Sands, Rick Voss, Crodelle - they all ring true, like 'em or not. And Sgt Jimmy Storm and brothers Bill and James Houston ring equally true as psychopathic emotional casualties of that war. And Hao, Minh and Trung are Vietnamese characters who keep turning up in a web of intrigue, deception and betrayal. Kathy Jones, the young widow of a missionary, who tries so hard to save as many of the orphans of the war, could break your heart. And there is also a chillingly professional German assassin, Dietrich Fest, who keeps turning up, product of a Nazi father and an SS older brother.

This book has been called a "masterpiece" and, I think, an American War and Peace. And this kind of praise is not an exaggeration. The book's 700-page bulk could seem intimidating, and maybe that's why I didn't read it eight years ago, when it won the National Book Award. Well the story is so well-made, so gripping, that I read it in just a few days. It's that good. Johnson seems to have grasped the awfulness of this war, and voices it in the words of his Corporal James Houston, a three-tour burned-out psychopath, who explains why he maimed and murdered a Vietnamese woman while on a LURP patrol -

"... because she's a whore, and this is a war. And that's what happens, because this is a war, and because this is not just a war."

The influence of Graham Green's THE QUIET AMERICAN is obvious here, as is THE UGLY AMERICAN. In fact both books are mentioned more than once. Religion and its failures are also central to the story. A Catholic priest notes that "God doesn't care who is Protestant or Catholic. God himself is not Catholic."

A line that I must admit made me smile, and also to reflect, 'hmm ... neither was Jesus, come to think of it."

Two very small complaints from me: One, Johnson makes the error of placing the Defense Language Institute and the Naval Postgraduate School in Carmel. Both are in Monterey. And he also errs in referring to a "Major's bars" as an insignia of rank. A Major's insignia is a gold oak leaf. Only lieutenants and captains have "bars."

But enough. Better and smarter men than I have already praised this book extravagantly. Well, all those good things they said? Me too. I'm so glad I finally read this book. Very highly recommended. ( )
  TimBazzett | Jun 5, 2015 |
A powerful novel of the Vietnam War, a very complex entanglement of, as evidenced here, shadowy secretive missions, at least some of which were quite autonomous. But this is a book of lively characters in a malarial, murky environment of clandestine intrigue, not a spy novel per se. Nor is it heavy on raw combat, though the hopelessness of a lost re-enlistee is one of the threads. Very effectively told, mainly through dialogue, brutally and believably. Johnson must've put heart and soul into his preparation for this. My only criticism is that it perhaps goes a bit long, as the narrative jumps to 1983 for closure, but in my view gets a little messy. ( )
  JamesMScott | Apr 10, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 61 (next | show all)
The labyrinthine Tree of Smoke is full of hitches, tangents, but it reads exceedingly fast. It suggests a protracted war that moved in an exacting blur.
 
When a novel’s first words are “Last night at 3:00 a.m. President Kennedy had been killed,” and the rest of it evinces no more feel for the English language and often a good deal less, and America’s most revered living writer touts “prose of amazing power and stylishness” on the back cover, and reviewers agree that whatever may be wrong with the book, there’s no faulting its finely crafted sentences—when I see all this, I begin to smell a rat.
 
In fact, since the publication of his first novel, in 1983, he has been preoccupied with the paradoxical notions of self-sacrifice and salvation in our modern world—but never before has Johnson’s writing been quite so haunted and harrowing as it is in his massive new novel, twenty-five years in the works.
 
Johnson's orchestration of these characters' intersecting lives is often graceless — as his last couple of novels have demonstrated, plotting has never been one of his strengths — and he has an unfortunate tendency to embroider their adventures with lots of portentous philosophizing about good and evil and religious faith. His heat-seeking eye for detail and his ability to render those observations in hot, tactile prose, however, immerse us so thoroughly in the fetid world of the war and the even more noxious world of espionage that they effectively erase the book's occasional longueurs.

Johnson not only succeeds in conjuring the anomalous, hallucinatory aura of the Vietnam War as authoritatively as Stephen Wright or Francis Ford Coppola, but he also shows its fallout on his characters with harrowing emotional precision. He has written a flawed but deeply resonant novel that is bound to become one of the classic works of literature produced by that tragic and uncannily familiar war.
 
Tree of Smoke is as excessive and messy as Moby Dick. Anything further removed from the tucked-up, hospital corners school of British fiction is hard to imagine. It's a big, dirty, unmade bed of a book and, once you settle in you're in no hurry to get out.
 

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374279128, Hardcover)

Amazon Significant Seven, September 2007: Denis Johnson is one of those few great hopes of American writing, fully capable of pulling out a ground-changing masterpiece, as he did in 1992 with the now-legendary collection, Jesus' Son. Tree of Smoke showed every sign of being his "big book": 600+ pages, years in the making, with a grand subject (the Vietnam War). And in the reading it lives up to every promise. It's crowded with the desperate people, always short of salvation, who are Johnson's specialty, but despite every temptation of the Vietnam dreamscape it is relentlessly sober in its attention to on-the-ground details and the gradations of psychology. Not one of its 614 pages lacks a sentence or an observation that could set you back on your heels. This is the book Johnson fans have been waiting for--along with everybody else, whether they knew it or not. --Tom Nissley

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:22 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"This is the story of William "Skip" Sands, CIA - engaged in Psychological Operations against the Vietcong - and the disasters that befall him. This is also the story of the Houston brothers, Bill and James, young men who drift out of the Arizona desert and into a war where the line between disinformation and delusion has blurred away. In its vision of human folly, this is a story like nothing in our literature."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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