Reviewer: Truong Buu Lam: Dr. Lam earned his Doctorate in History from the Université Catholique de Louvain, in Belgium many years ago. He has since taught history of Southeast Asia at several Colleges and Universities in Vietnam and the USA. He has authored a few works on Vietnamese history. He is now retired and the last affiliation was the University of Hawaii.
Author: Richard Barager
Author: Richard Barager
First of all, the title needs some explanation. By itself, it means nothing while no subtitle helps orient the readers. According to the author, Altamont stands for Altamont Speedway, the site in California of a Rolling Stones concert in 1969, and Augie was the name he gave to the “unidentified white male who drowned after plunging into the California Aqueduct” (p. 4), after Augie March in Bellows’ The Adventures of Augie March.
Barager’s Altamont Augie is a very cleverly crafted and skillfully conducted narrative. The Rolloinh Stones concert which was supposed to be the bookend of Woodstock allows him to ressuscitate the social, political and intellectual environment that informed the behavior and activities of the students of both sexes whose lives centered on universities campuses in the decade of the 1960s: the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), with its later development into the Weathermen, its right wing counterpart, the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), the Civil Rights , the Black Power and Black Panther Movements; the teach-ins, occupations of university buildings, the ubiquitous demonstrations and strikes over the war in Vietnam; the killing of students marching on campuses, the extremely violent rallies and no less brutal repression at the Democratic Convention held in Chicago in 1968; the routine use of LSD, marijuana, and many other hallucigenic drugs. With these ingredients, the author concocts a riveting, fast moving and fascinating love triangle the two male protagonists of which could not be more different. One, Levy, believed firmly in the tenets of the new revolutionary struggle against American capitalism and imperialism; so he blindingly implemented the activities of the SDS focusing primarily on opposing the war in Vietnam. The other, David, stood as firmly behind the American flag and so, at a meeting of the SDS he attended on the invitation of the female member of the triangle, (Jackie), as America was berated for its intervention in Vietnam, he intoned “Barry Sadler’s solemn hymn about the Green Berets.” Jackie was deeply embarrassed and dismissed him with a terse:”We have nothing in common. Don’t you have an ROTC [Reserved Officers Training Corps, an organization anathema to the left in the 60s] meeting to go to..?” (p.27) Notwithstanding the derogatory rebuke, Jackie took up again the love triangle, vacillating between Levy with whom she shared the leftist ideals, and David whom she admired, although without admitting it, for his physical strength and his … sex appeal!
The incident, however, gave David an idea: he enrolled in the Marines and after a harrowing training session described vividly and quasi existentially by the author, he was shipped to Vietnam. This offers the author the opportunity to air what seems to be his own assessment of the Vietnam war:” Fucked up war with fucked up leaders –on both sides. Ours send us into the middle of the jungle with our hands tied behind our backs, and theirs pretend they’re fighting a war of liberation when freedom for anybody is the last thing on their minds.” (p92)
After one tour in Vietnam part of which he spent at the besieged Khe Sanh, David came back to America and renewed his relationship with Jackie whom he had not seen or heard from since the incident of the Green Berets song, despite the fact that he wrote her every day.
The novel ended when the narrative ascertained David as the “unidentified white male who drowned after plunging into the California Aqueduct” (p. 4)
Without a doubt, the author is a talented writer; his skill at story telling so flawless that one keeps turning the pages automatically in order to follow the developments of the plot. Each character is presented with its complex diversity and its individual idiosyncrasies.
The general atmosphere of the times with their numerous organisations, their heavy share of turmoil and disturbances, all that becomes real, lively and even … riveting under the author’s pen.
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