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Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson
Tree of Smoke follows the lives of several characters through two decades, starting with the Kennedy assassination in 1963, following them through the War in Vietnam and the years afterward. Skip Sands is an innocent young man from Kansas who joins the CIA so that he can be close to his charismatic uncle, known as The Colonel. The Colonel has run covert operations since World War II, he mistrusts everyone, and runs Psy Ops missions on his own. The Houston brothers join the army and navy looking to certify their manhood and are shipped overseas. James Houston serves three tours of duty in Vietnam. The Colonel concocts a plan to send a Vietnamese man working as a double agent into North Vietnam with disinformation. In a world of lies, half-truths, betrayals, and misinformation, Skip loses control of the truth and is overwhelmed by the myths of war. Denis Johnson's novel has received glowing reviews with the San Diego Union-Tribune saying, "There are 'drugs, drink and alienation' in the book - and darkness - just as in the world. They are instrumental to the narrative, not its main subjects. People and places, complete with sounds, smells and weather, are rendered throughout with an extraordinary empathy and vividness. Johnson puts you there. Tree of Smoke is a great read, an amazing achievement."
Winner of the 2007 National Book Award for fiction