SPRING Book BOHANZA
‘Mead brought his rille to his shoulder and leaned into it, the muzzle only inches hunt the man’s head. The man stared into the barrel, then raised his eyes to Mead. Mead looked deeply into them and pulled the trigger.’
This is Michael Peterson on the page. In person he is dapper and attable in a three-piece suit, a lar cry from the marine with the crewcut who stares broodily trom the backtlap of his blockbuster ‘A Time of War’. Part ol the avalanche ol works by Vietnam vets expunging their experiences on celluloid and paper, Peterson insists that this is not ‘Rambo writes a novel' but the lirst overview of events.
‘lt’s the lirst larger grand scale approach to Vietnam. It didn't exist belore this. Even the movies are very narrowly locused - nothing is trying to build a bigger picture at what that war was about, sol, in my inept way, am trying to do that.’
In practice this makes tor a multi-locused political thriller interspersed with gritty combat scenes. What is noticeable is a lack ol the sense at betrayal that permeates the Vietnam oeuvre. Perhaps this is because Peterson had his own, very personal reasons tor going to war. He went out originally, at 22, as part at a data-collecting mission but six months later volunteered tor the lront.
‘l'd always wanted to be a writer, that was my real desire in my whole lite. But I didn’t have anything to write about. My generation was still profoundly iniluenced by Hemingway- you had to go oil to a war. I knew the war was wrong and was not winnable but I had to go see the war il l was going to be a writer.’
But what about having to kill people?
’I rationalised it in my own mind — l’m going out there at my own tree will and I‘ll have a gun and yes l'll be trying to kill someone but they’re overthere at their own tree will and they have a rille and they’re trying to kill me. It’s all even. 0t course it‘s a terrible rationalisation but I was very young at the time.’
The combat scenes in the novel were written atthe time while on MB in Australia but they were shelved for twenty years ‘because nobody wanted to know.’ Peterson lett Vietnam after his 13-month tour at duty with a Silver Star, Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, and a smashed leg which necessitated a six-month stay in hospital. He has
lew regrets and dismisses the idea that the experience at Vietnam was permanently damaging to the men who went out there.
‘There’s this view at American veterans as psychopaths still wearing their unitorms and wandering around malls in Washington—most ot them got out at Vietnam, had bad dreams, got married, had children, and now they are the nicest, kindest people I know in the world. The vast majority learnt a great deal from that war. They learnt that they don’t want their children to go to war, they don’t want themselves to go to war and they don’t want to kill people.’
He is at pains to stress that this is the message olthe book.
‘The most powertul thing I want to convey is how anti-war the novel is. that war is just horrible. I would never want there to be another war.’
One cannot help leeling howeverthat he has by-passed a large part at the Vietnam experience. He says that he had little interest in the political aspect ol the war and that he never shared the bitterness at his compatriots ‘I knew I hadn’t been tricked. A lot at veterans had that problem — they went over there not understanding. I could never say that l was betrayed by my country.‘ Despite his time in Vietnam and his many years working as a security consultant in Asia and Europe. His all-American optimism appears undented. ’I want to write my next novel about good and evil though I don’t know it people are ever evil, just misguided. Even the very bad CIA agent in my novel was acting tor the best at reasons.’ (Frances Cornlord)
A Time at War by Michael Peterson is published by Mandarin.
I Gorbals Children Joseph McKenzie (Richard Drew £1 1 .95) In 1964. influenced by Joan Eardley. McKenzie and camera arrived in Glasgow from an inner London estate. Gorbals ('hildren is the result. A foreward by (‘liff l lanley and introduction by Frank Worsdall chart the history ofthe (iorbals from 1178; through the ultimately futile development programmes to the
present day. concrete tower blocks set around concrete motorways sounding the death knell of the close-knit community and businesses which once existed.
These photographs take us through the development of the 50s and oils juxtaposing gleaming tower blocks and crumbling tenements and highlighting extreme upheaval.
The children underline a way of life. l-‘acing the camera with either charming curiosity or defiance and
80 The List 20 April - 3 May 199‘)
suspicion. they display a bazaar of NHS specs, broken teeth, filth and running noses in spate; shabby and ungainly, dressed practically and warmly.
Unfortunately, while the subject matter is undeniably engaging, the texture of the work is static and the photographs so dark that they occasionally completely obscure the detail — and not to artistic effect. The multitude ofquirks do, however. help to distract from this. The question is where are these children now?
VOICES. ‘_ x SIREN
I Gorbals Voices, Siren Songs Ralph Glasser (Chatto & Windus£13.95) The Law of Diminishing Returns applies to more than the number of times one may profitably masturbate in a single day. Sequels ofall sorts. be they books or films, invariably come under its malign inﬂuence; only rarely does a successor emulate the original.
Such is. at least partially, the case with this. the third volume of Ralph Glasser‘s autobiography. While containing a number ofwell-wrought character portraits. and skilfully evoking the listless life ofpost-war London. the obstacle which Gorbals Voices, Siren Songs fails to overcome is its lack ofa central, unifying theme. The first volume. Growing Up In The (iorbals, depicted Glasser‘s childhood in Glasgow‘s .lewish ghetto. and successfully attacked the revisionist myth that the people may have been poor. but it was a good life really. The second. (iorhals Boy A! Oxford (newly published in paperback. priced £4.99. by Pan). analysed the conflict Glasser felt when. on the eve of World War ll. be was thrown overnight from one end of the class systetn to the other. This concluding volume. however. which spans the fifteen-year period from the war‘s end. is chiefly an adumbrated addendum to its predecessors.
Rather than following a strict chronology. Glasser here takes a single incident or character of note. and expands upon the theme or person involved. The effect is slightly confusing, and at times gives one the impression ofgoing round in circles. Because many ofthe themes - crucially. the Jewish identity and the British class system — have been dealt with in depth in the first two volumes. the author at times only reiterates or hints at his previously
While certain incidents in the book. such as seeing King Farouk and the Duke of Windsor at the Biarritz Film Festival. appear to be little more than a chance to name-drop, others afford Glasser the opportunity to reflect more deeply. The death of his father. for instance. prompts a fine portrait of a highly strung. but admirably resilient man.
To criticise the book for being an insufficient exploration ofits themes is, in a way, to compliment it by recognising that one would like to read more of Glasser. in greater depth, rather than less. Gorbals Voices. Siren Songs will probably sell less than the first two volumes. but if it prompts readers new to the trilogy to read those books. it will have more than merited publication. (Stuart Bathgate)
I The Glasgow Herald Book ol Glasgow (Mainstream £14.95) A fresh approach. with Herald regulars contributing essays on topics ranging from economics to sport. Intelligent, incisive, occasionally controversial comment. negating the impact ofthe odd cliche. Pictorially pleasing. augmented by listings of recommended establishments.
I Could This Be Thistle‘s Year Patrick Prior. artwork Robert McWilliam (Scotrun Publications £5.95) A nostalgic introduction mourning the loss ofthe ‘auld days' makes way for an anecodotal, witty history of Glasgow in cartoon format. Sharp artwork, gory tales, useless but fascinating ‘did you know'P‘s. Good value. good read.
I Taggart’s Glasgow Mark McManus and Glenn Chandler (Lennard Publishing£14.95) lftales of homocidal husbands struggling to ‘feed the weans and pay the poll tax‘ appeal then this is for you. Copious shots ofchunky, Edinburgh-loathing Taggart on location with low-downs on the area in question and details of which particular episode (and victim) was shot where. Mince.
I Old Glasgow Henry Morton (Richard Drew £10.95) Ex. — now deceased — Herald and Evening Times journalist Morton provides personal memories of Glasgow in the 205 and 30s. Buildings, social customs and practices. and the city that was documented in this minutely detailed, lively book for young and old alike.
I Glasgow Arts Guide Alice Bain (A & C Black £7.95) Extensive little black book covering opening hours, addresses and backgrounds to the arts venues of Glasgow plus much more.
I Glasgow (AA Publishing £6.95) Ultimately. and unashamedly. a visitors’ guide. Glasgow does a good job of featuring the most interesting attractions plus information on excursions, maps, useful addresses etc.
I Bell In The Tree: The Glasgow Story Edward Chisnall (Mainstream £9.95) The book of the Radio Clyde