Message from Nam

A helicopter flies against a camouflage background
Camo isn’t normal for Steel.

Message from Nam is a surprising departure from Danielle Steel’s typical romances. And it’s also far better than they.

Paxton Andrews, a Georgia teen who idolized her late father and is emotionally estranged from her mother and brother, chooses UC Berkeley for college.

Within months, she falls in love with a law student who has burned his draft card. When drafted, Peter chooses to serve, despite his opposition to America’s involvement in Viet Nam. Five days into his first tour of duty, he’s killed by “friendly fire.”

Paxton drops out of college a few credits short of her journalism degree.

Peter’s father, who owns the San Francisco Morning Sun, agrees to let Paxton go to Saigon as a reporter for six months.

Paxton extends her assignment to seven years, writing her “Message from Nam” until she catches the last helicopter out of Saigon.

The novel has the usual romantic bits, including an ending that feels downright fraudulent, but the bulk of the book is Steel’s retelling of the headline news of 1963 through 1975.

Of all of Steel’s novels I’ve read thus far for GreatPenformances, Message from Nam is the most atypical and the most memorable. It stands out as an historical snapshot.

Message from Nam by Danielle Steel
Delacourt Press. ©1990. 411 p.
1990 bestseller #4; my grade: B

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Bourne Identity: Gripping story, forgettable characters

A sea shell pierced by a nail against a black background on the dust jacket of “The Bourne Identity”
The Bourne Identity cover art symbolizes murder attempt at sea

As he did in his previous bestseller, The Matarese Circle, in The Bourne Identity novelist Robert Ludlum tells a story that will keep readers turning pages long past their bedtime.

Bourne is the identity assumed by a man pulled from the Mediterranean “more corpse than man,” unable to remember anything about his past, including why he has a piece of microfilm with a Swiss bank account number implanted in his hip.

In Zurich, the amnesiac takes a woman hostage—every spy story requires the hero have a woman to complicate the plot—and together in Paris they begin to piece together Jason Bourne’s origins in Southeast Asia.

Ludlum is a master storyteller. Plot is his forte. Ludnum gives his characters just enough depth to be recognizable. They learn what’s necessary to advance the plot, but they don’t grow.

A day after closing The Bourne Identity, readers may wonder how Bourne, even before being shot in the head multiple times, could have been expected to remember everything he was required to remember to implement the machination of the West’s intelligence services.

Two days later, readers may even be unable to recall the names of the main characters.

But while they’re reading, they will be totally immersed in this complex, fast-paced thriller.

The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
R. Marek Publishers, © 1980. 523 p.
1980 bestseller #2. My grade: B+

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Green Berets Covers Vietnam War With Acronyms

Robin Moore started out to write a nonfiction account of the undercover work of the Green Berets.

When it became clear the special missions in which they engaged in Vietnam were too sensitive to be reported, even in disguise, Moore decided to present the book as fiction. Even then, its publication met with negative reaction from the US Army.


The Green Berets by Robin Moore

Crown Publishers, 1965. 348 pages. 1965 bestseller #5. My grade: C-


From dust jacket cover for The Green Berets by Robin MooreCalling The Green Berets a novel is also a work of fiction.

It’s a collection of stories—the publisher calls them “brilliant, inspiring tales”— Moore collected and imaginatively expanded based on his experiences with Special Forces in Vietnam.

Moore assumes readers will know the historical background  and geography and need only modest two-page glossary of acronyms to make sense of events that involve characters named Hin and Hon, Ming and Mong, who fight for or against CIDG, ARVN, LLDB, USOM or STRAC.

I suspect the only readers today who have that kind of knowledge are Vietnam-era veterans.

Moore concludes the book by saying that regardless of the outcome of the Vietnam war, Special Forces will continue to “make friends for America” in underdeveloped nations.

Given the stories Moore tells, however, I suspect Special Forces will need to deploy a lot more chocolate bars to accomplish that.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni