Friday, 10 June 2016

Dreaming the Enemy by David Metzenthen

Dreaming the Enemy by David Metzenthen
Published March 23, 2016 by Allen and Unwin
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Johnny Shoebridge has just returned from fighting in the jungles of Vietnam. He no longer carries a weapon - only photos of the dead and a dread of the living...Pursued by a Viet Cong ghost-fighter called Khan, Johnny makes one last stand - knowing that if he cannot lay this spectre to rest, he will remain a prisoner of war for ever.Drawing on courage, loyalty and love, Johnny tries to find a way back from the nightmare of war to a sense of hope for the future. 

A new book by David Metzenthen is always cause for celebration, and his latest novel, Dreaming the Enemy, is a compelling and haunting story of a boy returning from war.

It's February 1973 and Johnny Shoebridge has returned home to the fictional suburb of Taralia, Melbourne. A month prior Australia withdrew from the Vietnam War, perhaps more correctly referred to as the American War by the Vietnamese. Johnny was conscripted and spent three months in training and then a year in Vietnam. Not able to settle back into day to day life, Johnny's mum encourages him to take a holiday, and so he finds himself in a small coastal town in New South Wales.

Modern History was one of my favourite subjects in high school and one of the topics I loved learning about was the Vietnam (American) War. It feels odd to say that I loved learning about a war, but it is a fascinating and horrifying topic, and it shines a light on what the world was like at the time. I even got to go to Vietnam on a school trip for a few weeks at the end of Year 11. It was an amazing trip, even though I got really sick and spent a week throwing up. We visited some of the tunnels dug by the Vietnamese, they were impressive but so tiny, though some areas had tunnels excavated so that Westerners could enter and wander around. It's a beautiful country but it still bears the scars of a war that happened forty years ago.

Reading Johnny's story was heartbreaking. He's seen and done things he never imagined he'd have to do. He's disillusioned with the government, at a loss as to why they were even over there. And yet he doesn't bear a grudge against the Vietnamese people, he knows they were just trying to defend their country and survive. He's grieving for his two best friends, the hilarious Lex, and the stoic Barry, he hears their voices daily and knows he will remember them for the rest of his life. He's also haunted by a Viet Cong soldier, a boy he once shot at, and now the image of him won't leave his thoughts. Johnny names him Kahn and imagines him with his comrades, his one true love, as well as what he's doing now.

The pace of the story was slow and sometimes it was hard to move between the present and the past, but this accurately reflects what I imagine Johnny's state of mind to be like. He spends a lot of time reliving his time in training, the battles, the long marches through the jungle. He returns to the present, to a world he no longer belongs in, only to fall into a daydream about what Kahn is up to, who he's with, and what his life might look like.

Dreaming the Enemy is a beautifully told story, filled with tension, sorrow, and a little bit of hope. It's a touching look at the life of a soldier, the trauma they undergo, and what it must be like to return home. It's a reminder that trauma like this needs treatment, and that we must always strive for peace.

Thank you to Allen and Unwin for my review copy (RRP AUD$19.99)

I really like this cover, it suits the story well, highlighting Johnny's obsession with his memories and 

I used a bunch of different green polishes for this one, starting with a base of China Glaze Highlight of my Summer, and then sponging on: La Colors Minty, Ulta3 Emerald Inten-city, China Glaze Exotic Encounters, Priti Pearlwort, Orly Wandering Vine, and Ulta3 Lucky Bamboo.

I used acrylic paint for the silhouette of the face, and for the patches of fire.


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