Dreaming the enemy by David Metzenthen
Allen and Unwin, 2016. ISBN 9781760112257
(Age: 17+) Recommended. Good books are not always read for entertainment. This book is nuanced and brilliantly crafted, but it takes the reader into uncomfortable places and leaves you staggering and in pain as you experience the aftermath of the Vietnam War. This was not an enjoyable journey for the central character and survivor Johnny Shoebridge, who struggles with PTSD. His tenuous grip on the world is fraught with the painful dreams of conflict and the memories of the shared experience with his war buddies. He carries with him the ghosts of the traumatic experience and they claw at his stability, leaving him reeling and wounded. Metzenthen has allowed us also to experience the storyline from the perspective of the North Vietnamese soldier, as Johnny weaves the story of his enemy into his own nightmarish existence. The power of this dual perspective of the Vietnam War and its impacts on the human survivors - the 'feathers in the wind' tossed to the elements, is visceral in opening up the tragedy of the Vietnam War for the veterans who cannot escape the emotional storm that they carry with them. Metzenthen has subtly and gently revealed the staggering difficulty of returning to normality, particularly when strangers (including World War II veterans) were quick to judge and malign the returned servicemen without understanding their journey.
The writer's craft here is worthy of a recommendation. Metzenthen has skilfully woven time twists and the different perspectives from both sides of the conflict, as well as the psychological and emotional torture of the PTSD sufferer as he attempts to find 'normal'. The empathy that he induces in the reader is powerful, but it does require maturity in order to deal with the horrors of war and the torment of the young man who carries the dreams and hopes of his fallen buddies with him, as well as his own changed view of self. I found this book emotionally difficult to read - it gave me opportunity for understanding, but the pain of the central character, and the immersion into war was devastating and extremely distressing. Do not place this into the hands of a young reader without assessing their ability to deal with the hard issues of war. And although this gives perspective for ex-Servicemen's experience across the years, it is also an insight into mental health issues. (Note: some readers will also be confronted by the uncensored language choices of the Aussie soldier in the midst of life-threatening circumstances.)