Means of Escape

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In A RUMOR OF WAR, Philip Caputo wrote one of the indispensable books on the Vietnam conflict. Following that book he turned to fiction with admirable success. MEANS OF ESCAPE marks his return to the kind of reporting which first made him famous. An autobiography of sorts, which concentrates on his life before and after his Vietnam combat experience, it is also a meditation on war in the modern world and his own personal need to be a witness to war.

Starting with his childhood in a suburb of Chicago (Hemingway, also an Illinois boy, is, from the start, an inspiration to him), Caputo tells of his early years as an investigative reporter for the CHICAGO TRIBUNE (one series of stories earns him a Pulitzer Prize) before finding his niche as an international correspondent for the paper. Stationed in Rome, his first assignments are in the Middle East, where he is captured and held prisoner by Palestinian guerrillas. After that adventure, he finds time to trace his Italian roots and visits relatives he has never known. However , he is soon sent to Vietnam to witness the last days of America’s involvement in that tragic land. In Lebanon, covering its civil war, he is shot three times and must be rescued by a volunteer squad of fellow Marines. After leaving the newspaper and swearing off further dangers, he finally agrees to write on the Russian invasion of Afghanistan for ESQUIRE, hoping to find the “good war” that has so far eluded him.

“There is too much fact in this book to properly call it a novel, too much fiction to call it reportage,” Caputo writes. Chapters recounting his exploits are intercalated with brief, apparently fictional episodes in the manner of Hemingway’s IN OUR TIME. Caputo also allows himself the novelist’s privilege of re-creating dialogue and scene, sometimes based only on notes recovered from the event. Whatever its final form, however, the book is a powerful, compelling account of global madness in the last part of the century.