In Pharaoh’s Army

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

IN PHARAOH’S ARMY continues the autobiographical reflections which Wolff began so successfully in THIS BOY’S LIFE (1989). Here Wolff turns from his turbulent childhood and chaotic family life to his decision to join the army in his late teens. Young Toby becomes a lieutenant in the Green Berets and is eventually sent to My Tho, a Vietnamese town in the Mekong Delta. This is no glorious war tale. Although he survived the notorious Tet offensive in January of 1968, Wolff saw little action, and his war recollections are less about battles and military strategy and more about his personal experiences and wartime acquaintances. Prominent characters are Sergeant Benet, Toby’s African American aide and confidante in My Tho; Hugh Pierce, his best friend in flight school; Vera, his volatile and enigmatic girlfriend back home; and even Canh Cho, his ill-fated Vietnamese pet dog.

In particular this book is a journey of self-examination and reflection, in which a middle-aged Wolff recounts and criticizes the foibles of his more youthful self. Wolff begins in medias res with Toby’s hare-brained plan on Thanksgiving Day in 1967 to acquire a large color television set in the middle of war-torn Vietnam. From there, Wolff takes readers through a series of personal tales which move back and forth from Vietnam to earlier events in the United states, especially to boot camp and to Toby’s dissatisfying farewells. The Toby who returns home at the end of the book is,...

(The entire section is 454 words.)