The Classic Q&A: Philip Caputo
A Rumor of War, Philip Caputo’s searing personal account of his time as a Marine in Vietnam, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, in time for PBS’s formidable 18-hour documentary, The Vietnam War (Caputo is featured in the series). The book was published just two years after the fall of Saigon, a time when Vietnam was a tough sell. “It was unfashionable in 1977,” Caputo recalled a decade later. “It was kind of like writing a porno novel in 1857. Now all of a sudden it’s wildly fashionable, and I think it could go out of fashion depending on the marketplace next week.”
Yet the book received raves. John Gregory Dunne called A Rumor of War “a terrifying book…It will make the strongest among us weep,” and fellow Marine, William Styron, a particular admirer, observed in The New York Review of Books:
One of the most remarkable features of A Rumor of War is the fact that Caputo’s bitter disaffection with the Vietnamese war and all it represented came when the war was in its infancy, 1966. Not that the war was anything but corrupt to begin with; still there is something almost phenomenal in Caputo’s microcosmic sixteen-month odyssey, as if compressed within its brief framework was the whole foul and shameful drama of the conflict which was to drag on for many more years.
The book is riveting—if you’ve never read it, we suggest you do. Caputo later wrote a string of memorable features for Esquire—you can listen to him discuss his fascinating 1986 profile of Styron, here. We recently caught up Caputo to discuss his first book and the war that we cannot forget, no matter how much we try.