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Sympathy for the Devil

Sympathy for the Devil

by Kent Anderson
Sympathy for the Devil

Sympathy for the Devil

by Kent Anderson



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Kent Anderson's stunning debut novel is a modern classic, a harrowing, authentic picture of one American soldier's experience of the Vietnam War--"unlike anything else in war literature" (Los Angeles Review of Books).
Hanson joins the Green Berets fresh out of college. Carrying a volume of Yeats's poems in his uniform pocket, he has no idea of what he's about to face in Vietnam--from the enemy, from his fellow soldiers, or within himself. In vivid, nightmarish, and finely etched prose, Kent Anderson takes us through Hanson's two tours of duty and a bitter, ill-fated return to civilian life in-between, capturing the day-to-day process of war like no writer before or since.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316489492
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 11/13/2018
Series: Mulholland Classic
Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format: eBook
Sales rank: 467,037
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Kent Anderson is a U.S. Special Forces veteran who served in Vietnam and a former police officer in Portland, Oregon, and Oakland, California. With an MFA in creative writing from the University of Montana, he has taught college-level English and written screenplays. His two other novels, Night Dogs and Green Sun, both feature Hanson. Anderson may be the only person in U.S. history to have won two NEA grants for creative writing as well as two Bronze Stars. He lives in New Mexico.

Read an Excerpt


A sheet of paper was tacked to the wall over  Hanson's bunk:

Every day in the world a hundred thousand people die. A human life means nothing.

General Vo Nguyen Giap, Commander-in-Chief, North Vietnamese Army

"In order to despise suffering, to be always content and never astonished at anything, one  must reach such a state as this"—and Ivan Dmitrich indicated the obese peasant, bloated with fat—"or else one must harden one's self through sufferings to such a degree as to lose all sensitivity to them: that is, in other words, cease to live."

Anton Chekhov

Hanson stood just inside the heavy-timbered  door of his concrete bunker, looking out.  There was no moon yet. The only sound was  the steady sobbing of the big diesel generators,  but Hanson heard nothing. Had the generators  ever stopped he would have heard the silence,  a silence that would have bolted him wide-awake, armed, and out of his bunk if he were asleep.

He stepped from the doorway and began  walking across the inner perimeter toward  the teamhouse, a squat shadow ahead of him  in the dark. His web gear, heavy with ammunition  and grenades, swung from one shoulder like  easy, thoughtful breathing. The folding-stock  AK-47 in his right hand was loaded with a  gracefully curving thirty-round magazine.

As he got closer to the teamhouse,  he could feel the drums and steel-stringed  guitar on the back of his sunburned forearms  and against the tender broken hump on his  nose. Then he could hear it.

Hanson smiled. "Stones," he said  softly. He didn't have enough to pick out  the song, but the bass and drums  were pure Stones.

He slid the heavy, light-proof door  open and stepped into the bright teamhouse.  The song, "Under My Thumb," was pumping  out of Silver's big Japanese speakers.

Quinn was pouting and strutting to  the music, one hand hooked in his pistol  belt, the other hand thrust out, thumbs down,  like Caesar at the Roman games sending the  pike into another crippled loser. His small blue eyes were  close-set, cold and flat as the weekly casualty  announcement, as he mouthed the words.

Hanson shrugged his web gear to the  floor, shouted, "Let me guess," and pressed  his hand to his freckled forehead. He pointed  at Quinn and shouted into the music, "Mick  Jagger, right? Your new Jagger impersonation."  His snub-nosed combat magnum glinted from  its shoulder holster.

Quinn ignored him, pounding the floor  like a clog dancer.

The battered white refrigerator was  turned up to high in the damp heat, and gouts  of frost dropped to the floor when Hanson  opened it to get a Black Label beer. The  seams and lip of the black&red cans were  rusty from the years they had been stockpiled  on the Da Nang docks. Years of raw monsoon  and swelling summer heat had turned the American  beer bitter. But it was cold; it made his  fillings ache when he drank it.

Hanson took a flesh-colored quart jar  from the top of the refrigerator, screwed  off the top, and took out two of the green&white  amphetamine capsules. He knocked them back  with the icy beer.

Beats coffee for starting the day,  he thought, smiling, recalling the double-time  marching chant back at Fort Bragg: "Airborne  Ranger Green Beret, this is the way we start  our day," running the sandhills before  dawn, the rumor that one team had run over  a PFC from a supply unit who had been drunkenly  crossing the road in front of them. The team  had trampled him and left him behind, never  getting out of step, chanting each time their  left jump boot hit the ground, "Pray  for war. Pray for war. Pray for war."

He sat down on one of the wooden footlockers  and began thumbing through the Time  magazine that had come in on the last mail  chopper.

The Stones finished "Under My  Thumb," paused, and began "Mother's  Little Helper." Quinn turned the volume  down and walked over to Hanson. He moved  with ominous deliberation, like a man carrying  nitroglycerin. People got uncomfortable if  Quinn moved too close or too quickly.

"Keepin' up with current events, my  man?" he asked Hanson. "How's the war going  these days?"

"This magazine says we're kicking  shit out of 'em. But now," Hanson said,  tapping the open magazine, "what about the  home front? They've got problems too. Take  this young guy, a "Cornell Senior' it says  here, "I'm nervous as hell. I finally decide  on a field—economics—and then I find out  I'm number fifty-nine in the draft lottery.'  Rough, huh? Just when he decided on economics."

Hanson thumbed through the magazine,  singing softly, ". . . My candy man, he's come an' gone. Mah candy man, he's come an' gone. An' I love ever'thing in this godomighty world, God knows I do . . ."

To the west a heavy machine gun was  firing, the distant pounding as monotonous  as an assembly-line machine. Artillery was  going in up north. Three guns working out.  They were good, the rounds going in one on  top of the other, each explosion like a quick  violent wind, the sound your firestarter  makes when you touch off the backyard charcoal  grill. Normal night sounds.

Hanson read the ads out loud. ""There's  a Ford in your future.' "Tired  of diet plans that don't work? . . .'"

"Then come to Vietnam, fat boy,"  Quinn shouted, "and get twenty pounds blown  off your ass."

A short, wiry man came into the teamhouse.  He wore round wire-rim glasses and had a  thin white scar running from his lip up to  the side of his nose like a harelip.

"Silver," Hanson yelled to him, then  almost said, how much weight did you  lose on the Vietnam high-explosive diet plan,  but changed his mind. Silver had lost half  his team, and his partner was in Japan with  no legs.

"How's that hole in your ass?" Hanson  asked him.

Silver couldn't talk without moving,  gesturing, ducking, and jabbing like a boxer.  He talked fast, and when he laughed it was  a grunt, like he'd just taken a punch in  the chest. "I like it a lot," he said.  "Thinking about getting one on the other  side. For symmetry, you know? Dimples. A  more coordinated limp," he said, walking  quickly forward then backward like a broken  mechanical man. Then he stopped and stared  at the reel-to-reel tape deck.

"Listen to that," he said, cocking  his head slightly. "Background hiss. And  that tape's almost new."

"How much longer you gonna be on stand-down,  you skinny little gimp?" Quinn asked him.

"Couple weeks. I'll fake it a little  longer if I have to. Captain says he's gonna  try and get Hanadon up here from the C team  for my partner. I don't want to go out with  some new guy."

". . . Candy man," Hanson sang to himself as he leafed through the magazine, "he been and gone, oh my candy man, he been and gone. Well I wish I was down in New Or-leens . . ."

"And look here," he said, holding  up the magazine. "President visiting the  troops over at the Third Mech fire base."

Silver had a slight limp as he walked  over. He looked at the two-page color spread.  "Shit," he said, then laughed. "I was  there. After they fixed me up, but before  they said I could come back here. The troops  down there? They spent three weeks building  wooden catwalks around the guns so the Prez  wouldn't get his feet muddy. Of course, huh,  they weren't able to use the guns for fire  missions for three weeks, but they looked  good. Issued all the troops brand-new starched  fatigues an hour before The Man was supposed  to get there, and made 'em stand around at  parade rest so they wouldn't get wrinkled.

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