Going after Cacciato

Going after Cacciato

by Tim O'Brien


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"To call Going After Cacciato a novel about war is like calling Moby-Dick a novel about whales."

So wrote The New York Times of Tim O'Brien's now classic novel of Vietnam. Winner of the 1979 National Book Award, Going After Cacciato captures the peculiar mixture of horror and hallucination that marked this strangest of wars.

In a blend of reality and fantasy, this novel tells the story of a young soldier who one day lays down his rifle and sets off on a quixotic journey from the jungles of Indochina to the streets of Paris. In its memorable evocation of men both fleeing from and meeting the demands of battle, Going After Cacciato stands as much more than just a great war novel. Ultimately it's about the forces of fear and heroism that do battle in the hearts of us all.

Now with Extra Libris material, including a reader’s guide and bonus content

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767904421
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 09/28/1999
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 181,975
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)
Lexile: 680L (what's this?)

About the Author

TIM O’BRIEN received the 1979 National Book Award in fiction for Going After Cacciato. His other works include the Pulitzer finalist and a New York Times Book of the Century, The Things They Carried; the acclaimed novels Tomcat in Love and Northern Lights; and the national bestselling memoir If I Die in a Combat Zone. His novel In the Lake of the Woods received the James Fenimore Cooper Prize from the Society of American Historians and was named the best novel of 1994 by Time. In 2010 he received the Katherine Anne Porter Award for a distinguished lifetime body of work and in 2012 he received the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award from the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Foundation. He was awarded the Pritzker Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing in 2013.

Date of Birth:

October 1, 1946

Place of Birth:

Austin, Minnesota


B.A., Macalester College, 1968; Graduate study at Harvard University

Read an Excerpt

It was a bad time. Billy Boy Watkins was dead, and so was Frenchie Tucker. Billy Boy had died of fright, scared to death on the field of battle, and Frenchie Tucker had been shot through the nose. Bernie Lynn and Lieutenant Sidney Martin had died in tunnels. Pederson was dead and Rudy Chassler was dead. Buff was dead. Ready Mix was dead. They were all among the dead. The rain fed fungus that grew in the men's boots and socks, and their socks rotted, and their feet turned white and soft so that the skin could be scraped off with a fingernail, and Stink Harris woke up screaming one night with a leech on his tongue. When it was not raining, a low mist moved across the paddies, blending the elements into a single gray element, and the war was cold and pasty and rotten. Lieutenant Corson, who came to replace Lieutenant Sidney Martin, contracted the dysentery. The tripflares were useless. The ammunition corroded and the foxholes filled with mud and water during the nights, and in the mornings there was always the next village, and the war was always the same. The monsoons were part of the war. In early September Vaught caught an infection. He'd been showing Oscar Johnson the sharp edge on his bayonet, drawing it swiftly along his forearm to peel off a layer of mushy skin. "Like a Gillette Blue Blade," Vaught had said proudly. There was no blood, but in two days the bacteria soaked in and the arm turned yellow, so they bundled him up and called in a dustoff, and Vaught left the war. He never came back. Later they had a letter from him that described Japan as smoky and full of slopes, but in the enclosed snapshot Vaught looked happy enough, posing with two sightly nurses, a wine bottle rising from between his thighs. It was a shock to learn he'd lost the arm. Soon afterward Ben Nystrom shot himself through the foot, but he did not die, and he wrote no letters. These were all things to joke about. The rain, too. And the cold. Oscar Johnson said it made him think of Detroit in the month of May. "Lootin' weather," he liked to say. "The dark an' gloom, just right for rape an' lootin'." Then someone would say that Oscar had a swell imagination for a darkie.

That was one of the jokes. There was a joke about Oscar. There were many jokes about Billy Boy Watkins, the way he'd collapsed of fright on the field of battle. Another joke was about the lieutenant's dysentery, and another was about Paul Berlin's purple biles. There were jokes about the postcard pictures of Christ that Jim Pederson used to carry, and Stink's ringworm, and the way Buff's helmet filled with life after death. Some of the jokes were about Cacciato. Dumb as a bullet, Stink said. Dumb as a month-old oyster fart, said Harold Murphy.

In October, near the end of the month, Cacciato left the war.

"He's gone away," said Doc Peret. "Split, departed."

Lieutenant Corson did not seem to hear. He was too old to be a lieutenant. The veins in his nose and cheeks were broken. His back was weak. Once he had been a captain on the way to becoming a major, but whiskey and the fourteen dull years between Korea and Vietnam had ended all that, and now he was just an old lieutenant with the dysentery.

He lay on his back in the pagoda, naked except for green socks and green undershorts.

"Cacciato," Doc repeated. "The kid's left us. Split for parts unknown."

The lieutenant did not sit up. With one hand he cupped his belly, with the other he guarded a red glow. The surfaces of his eyes were moist.

"Gone to Paris," Doc said.

The lieutenant put the glow to his lips. Inhaling, his chest did not move. There were no vital signs in the wrists or thick stomach.

"Paris," Doc Peret repeated. "That's what he tells Paul Berlin, and that's what Berlin tells me, and that's what I'm telling you. The chain of command, a truly splendid instrument. Anyhow, the guy's definitely gone. Packed up and retired."

The lieutenant exhaled. Blue gunpowder haze produced musical sighs in the gloom, a stirring at the base of Buddha's clay feet. "Lovely," a voice said. Someone else sighed. The lieutenant blinked, coughed, and handed the spent roach to Oscar Johnson, who extinguished it against his toenail.

"Paree?" the lieutenant said softly. "Gay Paree?"

Doc nodded. "That's what he told Paul Berlin and that's what I'm telling you. Ought to cover up, sir."

Sighing, swallowing hard, Lieutenant Corson pushed himself up and sat stiffly before a can of Sterno. He lit the Sterno and placed his hands behind the flame and bent forward to draw in heat. Outside, the rain was steady. "So," the old man said. "Let's figure this out." He gazed at the flame. "Trick is to think things clear. Step by step. You said Paree?"

"Affirm, sir. That's what he told Paul Berlin, and that's--"


"Right here, sir. This one."

The lieutenant looked up. His eyes were bright blue and wet. Paul Berlin pretended to smile.



"Jeez," the old man said, shaking his head. "I thought you were Vaught."


"I thought he was you. How . . . how do you like that? Mixed up, I guess. How do you like that?"

"Fine, sir."

The lieutenant shook his head sadly. He held a boot to dry over the burning Sterno. Behind him in shadows was the crosslegged Buddha, smiling from its elevated stone perch. The pagoda was cold. Dank from a month of rain, the place smelled of clays and silicates and dope and old incense. It was a single square room built like a pillbox with stone walls and a flat ceiling that forced the men to stoop or kneel. Once it might have been a fine house of worship, neatly tiled and painted, but now it was junk. Sandbags blocked the windows. Bits of broken pottery lay under chipped pedestals. The Buddha's right arm was missing but the smile was intact. Head cocked, the statue seemed interested in the lieutenant's long sigh. "So. Cacciato, he's gone. Is that it?"

"There it is," Doc said. "You've got it."

Paul Berlin nodded.

"Gone to gay Paree. Am I right? Cacciato's left us in favor of Paree in France." The lieutenant seemed to consider this gravely. Then he giggled. "Still raining?"

"A bitch, sir."

"I never seen rain like this. You ever? I mean, ever?"

"No," Paul Berlin said. "Not since yesterday."

"And I guess you're Cacciato's buddy. Is that the story?"

"No, sir," Paul Berlin said. "Sometimes he'd tag along. Not really."

"Who's his buddy?"

"Nobody. Maybe Vaught. I guess Vaught was, sometimes."

"Well," the lieutenant murmured. He paused, dropping his nose inside the boot to sniff the sweating leather. "Well, I reckon we better get Mister Vaught in here. Maybe he can straighten this shit out."

"Vaught's gone, sir. He's the one--"

"Mother of Mercy."

Doc draped a poncho over Lieutenant Corson's shoulders. The rain was steady and thunderless and undramatic. It was mid-morning, but the feeling was of endless dusk.

The lieutenant picked up the second boot and began drying it. For a time he did not speak. Then, as if amused by something he saw in the flame, he giggled again and blinked. "Paree," he said. "So Cacciato's gone off to gay Paree--bare ass and Frogs everywhere, the Follies Brassiere." He glanced up at Doc Peret. "What's wrong with him?"

"Just dumb. He's just awful dumb, that's all."

"And he's walking. You say he's walking to gay Paree?"

"That's what he claims, sir, but you can't trust--"

"Paree! Jesus Christ, does he know how far it is? I mean, does he know?"

Paul Berlin tried not to smile. "Eight thousand six hundred statute miles, sir. That's what he told me--eight thousand six hundred on the nose. He had it down pretty good. Rations, fresh water, a compass, and maps and stuff."

"Maps," the lieutenant said. "Maps, flaps, schnaps." He coughed and spat, then grinned. "And I guess he'll just float himself across the ocean on his maps, right? Am I right?"

"Well, not exactly," said Paul Berlin. He looked at Doc Peret, who shrugged. "No, sir. He showed me how . . . See, he says he's going up through Laos, then into Burma, and then some other country, I forget, and then India and Iran and Turkey, and then Greece, and the rest is easy. That's what he said. The rest is easy, he said. He had it all doped out."

"In other words," the lieutenant said, and hesitated. "In other words, fuckin AWOL."

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Simply put, the best novel written about the war. I do not know . . . any writer, journalist, or novelist who does not concede that position to O'Brien's Going After Cacciato."
Miami Herald

"A novel of great beauty and importance."
Boston Globe

"Stark . . . rhapsodic. . . . It is a canvas painted vividly, hauntingly, disturbingly by Tim O'Brien."
Los Angeles Times

"As a fictional portrait of this war, Going After Cacciato is hard to fault, and will be hard to better."
—John Updike, The New Yorker

Reading Group Guide

1. Why do you think Cacciato journeys to Paris? Why not Brussels? Or Rome?

2. Why would Cacciato have planted a smoke grenade booby trap? Does it serve any practical purpose? Why do you think O'Brien describes the men's intensely visceral reactions to the smoke grenade in such detail? What insights does the event provide into the nature of marching through mined territory?

3. Berlin describes the story of Cacciato's flight as "a truly awesome notion. Not a dream, an idea. An idea to develop, to tinker with and build and sustain, to draw out as an artist draws out his visions." How does he manage to build and sustain this "notion"? Are there certain rules governing the construction of Berlin's fantasy? How does it differ from an ordinary daydream?

4. Going After Cacciato could be said to take place all in the course of one night of extended sentry duty on an observation post on the South China Sea, during which Paul Berlin remembers recent combat experiences and also imagines a flight to Paris. Why do you think O'Brien structured the novel so as to blur the distinctions between the three realities (the observation post, the combat memories, and the flight to Paris)? At what point were you aware of these three separate stories? How do they each intersect and influence one another? At what moments do they most strikingly bleed into one another?

5. What kind of relationship does Paul have with his father? What impact does it have on his behavior during his tour of duty? What significance do his childhood memories of playing Little Bear and Big Bear in Indian Guides have for him in Vietnam?

6. We are told on the very first page of the novel which soldiers die and of what cause. Why wouldn't O'Brien want their deaths to be a surprise? In contrast, why does O'Brien allow Cacciato's fate to remain a mystery until the end of the novel? How does O'Brien use suspense as a novelistic technique?

7. Is Sarkin Aung Wan a construction of Berlin's imagination? If so, what does her character tell us about Berlin? Why does their relationship remain chaste for so long?

8. In a later novel entitled The Things They Carried, O'Brien makes numerous observations about the nature of a true war story. "Often in a true war story there is not even a point. . . . You can tell a true war story by the way it never seems to end. . . . It's safe to say in a true war story nothing is ever absolutely true. . . . In any war story, especially a true one, it's difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen." How is Going After Cacciato an elaboration of these ideas? Which parts of the novel represent "true war stories"?

9. What does the Viet Cong Major Li Van Hgoc mean when he says, "the land is your enemy"? How does he confirm Berlin's own suspicions about the country's animosity toward the U.S. troops?

10. If the journey to Paris is in Berlin's imagination, why does he get beaten by the monks in Mandalay? Or arrested in Iran? Why does Sarkin Aung Wan leave him? Why must his imagined journey after Cacciato be full of so much emotional and physical pain?

11. Is there any significance to the fact that the story keeps returning to one particular night of watch duty at an observation post on the South China Sea? Why does Berlin weave the tale of Cacciato's flight on this particular night?

12. Does the debate with Captain Fahyi Rhallon over desertion shed any light on the legitimacy of the squad's current pursuit of Cacciato? Do you think the squad is deserting from the war, or executing a military mission? How does Berlin manage to keep the distinctions blurry for the entire length of the novel?

13. Berlin thinks, "You could run, but you couldn't outrun the consequences of running. Not even in imagination." Why can't Berlin imagine deserting without letting the consequences sneak into his fantasies? What role does guilt play in the construction of Berlin's fantasy?

14. In chapter 42, Berlin muses that this war is "a war like any war. No new messages. Stories that began and ended without transition. No developing drama or tension or direction. No order." How does Going After Cacciato reflect these notions? How does it contradict them?

15. How accurate is Berlin's perception that "peace was shy. That was one lesson: Peace never bragged. If you didn't look for it, it wasn't there"?

16. Why does O'Brien leave Cacciato's fate unanswered?

17. A New York Times reviewer wrote, "To call Going After Cacciato a novel about war is like calling Moby-Dick a novel about whales." What did the reviewer mean by that? Do you agree? If Going After Cacciato is not about war, what do you think it is about?

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Going After Cacciato (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*SPOILER ALERT* Overall I enjoyed reading Going After Cacciato and I feel anyone who is interested about war or the effects of war should read it. O'Brien intended his audience to be people interested about war or even just a more adult audience. This is because the book jumps around to almost three whole different stories which can get a little confusing at times. Also there is some suggestive language in it so it would not be recommended for younger children. As I said previously the book jumps around quite a bit to three different parts. It took me a little while to understand this but after reading a couple chapters I understood this and began to like the book even more. I also thought the book had a good ending, even if it was predictable. The final chapter is where Berlin is back to dreaming about going after Cacciato and they get really close to catching him but in the end he gets away and Berlin and his squad give up the chase. They feel there could be worse things that could have happened and think that even if it is a slim one, that he has a chance to survive on the run the rest of his life. After reading the whole book I feel that O'Brien picked a good title for the book. It is a simple one but it makes sense to what a lot of the book is about, which is going after Cacciato who is going AWOL from his unit (ultimately this is a dream). I found the whole book interesting but I found it most interesting after researching the book a little that the book was factual in that many soldiers who returned from Vietnam had strange dreams similar to Paul Berlin. The war was very traumatizing for many soldiers and some couldn't get the vision of war out of their head even when they were sleeping. Going After Cacciato does a great job of showing this and I would recommend reading it.
dele2451 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Poignant, brutal, beautiful, horrible and gripping. Like the Vietnam War itself, it is a study in events that spun out of control and never had a tidy ending. Being from a military family and being a veteran myself, I have read a fair share of war novels and histories, but nothing has ever been quite like this. I really reads more like a narrated memoir, only without the self-filtering associated with a memoir. Other than the sequence regarding the promotion board, I thought it was very well done. A definite recommend.
snat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is not for everyone. If you have trouble suspending disbelief or issues with magical realism, walk away now or read O'Brien's The Things They Carried. However, if you can just sit back and enjoy the ride as a master storyteller blurs the lines between reality and fantasy in such a way that there are no hard and fast truths (which is the point), then you will most likely enjoy the novel. Going After Cacciato is less accessible than The Things They Carried because trying to figure out the truth of what happens when Cacciato, a young soldier in Vietnam, chooses to go AWOL and walk all the way to Paris can drive you crazy. A unit is dispatched to hunt Cacciato down, but encounters a number of bizarre twists and turns along the way (think Catch-22 meets Alice in Wonderland). The narrative is split into three distinct time periods and told from the point of view of Paul Berlin. They foucs on Berlin's first few months in the war, the hunt for Cacciato, and one night after the hunt for Cacciato is over (this occurs while Berlin is on night watch and thinking back to the hunt for Cacciato). The problem with making sense of the narrative comes from Paul Berlin himself--a young soldier ill-equipped to deal with the violence and atrocity of war, he uses his imagination to while away the tedious hours, as well as to recreate traumatic events with which he's not ready to cope. The point, however, is not what actually happened to Cacciato (in fact, upon a second reading, I found myself questioning the conclusion I came to after reading it for the first time), but how Berlin wisely or unwisely chooses to cope with events that are beyond his ability to control.
SqueakyChu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In this story of the Viet Nam war, a platoon of soldiers is given an assignment by their lieutenant to go after and capture Cacciato, one of their own who has gone AWOL. The chapters of the book alternate between seeing the soldiers learning about warfare and watching them leave the battlefield to ¿go after Cacciato¿. How can the platoon justify walking away from such an ugly war? Somewhere in this book, though, the reader discovers a fine line between fact and fiction and must draw his own conclusion. O¿Brien¿s mastery of dialogue and scenery create very lifelike scenes. My favorite chapter of the book is one in which new soldiers are being observed by their leader as they ascend a mountain to reach a battlefield. This whole chapter is a metaphor for going to war. It is beautifully written and can stand alone as a remarkable essay.The main story is told through the eyes of one soldier, Paul Berlin, who wonders what he is doing in the war at all. He is young and terrified, but he tries hard to pretend that all is okay by thinking of people and places familiar to him. When assigned to go after Cacciato, he considers if going AWOL would be an option for himself as well. The farther Berlin and his fellow soldiers distance themselves from the war, the more the reader must rationalize what the platoon is doing and what the author is trying to tell us.This time in history is important to remember. I prefer to reflect on it in the way that this author presents it. The reader not only finds out the gruesome facts of war, but also experiences the emotions that go along with it. This is a terrific book which I highly recommend. It struck a deep emotional chord in me and perhaps will do the same to you.
whitewavedarling on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the clear footsteps of Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, this is a powerful and subtle work. Exploring the aftermaths of trauma and the faultlines in characters exposed to war and violence, O'Brien shows himself at his best here. As a novel of the Vietnam War, as a novel of character, as a novel of journeying, and as a novel of fascinating excellent prose and imagination: this work excels in every regard. Absolutely recommended.
dougwood57 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Contrary to an NYT review,'Going After Cacciato' by Tim O'Brien is indeed a book about war and the men fighting it (leave it to the Times to say something so silly and get away with it). Or, well, it's a book about war until Cacciato walks away from it and then his platoon follows - to Paris. And of course, his escape from the war was about the war, too. O'Brien flashes back and forth between the real events of the war that happened in the past, the 'trip', and the 'after trip'. I will leave to the reader to figure out whether the trip 'really' takes place or not. The book has a Catch-22 feel to it, but that book was closer to reality as it portrayed the insanity of war. O'Brien does capture the pointlessness of the Vietnam war - that is, it was pointless from the perspective of the US soldiers not to the Vietnamese. O'Brien wrote the Cacciato book in 1979 after he published his memoirs If I Die in a Combat Zone : Box Me Up and Ship Me Home in which he discusses his plan to go AWOL that he did not carry through on. In that sense, Cacciato carries out the plan for him. Cacciato is a strange book, but in 1979, most people in the US were sick of anything to do with Vietnam; a novel of historical realism would have lacked appeal. I did not fight in Vietnam, being just a bit too young, but I think O'Brien captures the bizarre surrealness that soldiers experienced in being dropped in the middle of a land about as foreign and exotic to an American 18-year-old as you could find to fight a war nobody understood.
Wordherd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
On a frame of dreams and possibilities O'Brien puts together an important novel of war, discovery, understanding and hope. A very different kind of war novel and one of the finest books I've read. Highly recommended.
Ms.Claudia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. It was filled with very graphic details and bold language. I love how the narrator takes you through the characters vivid moments in his reality to the harrowing pits of hallucination of near or total insanity. I really enjoy war books with this tempo.
SandSing7 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am in love with The Things They Carried, but I can't say that I "got" Going After Cacciato. While The Things They Carried was thought provoking, Going After Cacciato was puzzling. It was a great premise and I enjoyed Cacciato's quirky character the few times we actually encountered him, but the premise was quickly bogged down by the narrative - an element that did not plague the disjointed metafiction of The Things They Carried.
NicholasPayne on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Won a National Book Award back when the National Book Award meant something. A dreamy accounting of the Viet Nam war thats slips, logically, in and out of nightmarish terrain. An excellent novel.
mikedraper on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In 1968, the Viet Nam war was at its worse, killing American men in vast numbers. With many of the men in Caccciato's unit killed or wounded and the monsoon season causing havoc to the men's health, Cacciato walks away from his unit and decides to walk to Paris.There are symbols of hope and death, faith and despair, war and peace as we follow Cacciato's path. He has maps and will travel through Laos, into Berma, India and other countries on his journey.Rich in symbolism, we read of the picture of Christ in a dead soldier's helmet and the damaged Buddah in the lieutentat's pagoda.Some of the story is of scenes in the field during the war. We read of the soldiers and civilians being killed, the burning out of villages suspected of being enemy sympathizers.The story is narrated by a soldier named Paul Berlin and a good portion is of what Berlin is imagining. The unit follows Cacciato who leaves signs in the jungle with M&M's. At one poing the unit and a young Viet Namese girl fall into a Viet Cong tunnel and don't know how to get out. The girl tells them, she has the answer, if we fell in, then we can fall out.With some real action and some in Berlin's mind, it was difficult for this reader to see what was real and what was a figment of the character's imagination.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this novel! He jumps around a bit but that's how what Tim O'Brien writes. Very descriptive and connects to the reader with his wonderful side notes. This book is packed with adventure, love, the feeling of helplessness and concern for the characters and keeps you wondering whats going to happen around the next corner. I have to admit I had to re-read a page or two, but it held my attention and made me eager to continue reading. I once "hated" reading and thought of it was such a boring task. After reading this book it compelled me to read more of Tim O'Brien work; so I definitely recommend this lovely piece of work to everyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Going After Cacciato is a novel that takes place during the Vietnam War. Although it is a ¿war story¿ there is very little to connect it back to a traditional ¿war story.¿ If you are looking for a novel bursting with with guns, bloody battles, and death you should look else where. That is not to say there are not war scenes in the novel; they just are not heavily present. Tim O¿Brien puts his traditional twist on the novel. While Paul Berlin, the main character, and the other members of his platoon travel to Paris in search of Cacciato, a solider that ran away, they face multiple events that get the reader to ponder on what is happening. Tim O¿Brien is continually keeping the reader on their toe¿s by switching the time period and perspective the novel is told from. This novel has it all from love to bloody war battles, so if you want to read a novel that has you pondering until the end, read Going After Cacciato.
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dAvIdTaYlOr More than 1 year ago
i would recommend this book to anyone. Its such a good book, it involves everything you could imagine. I have read 3 of Tim O' Briens books and they are excellent. But this book is by far the best i have ever read.
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