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Book Review: I Must Survive by Harry Simpson

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Brad Howard is the sole survivor from the crew of his Patrol River Boat (PBR). I Must Survive is a fictional first-person account of the day-by-day struggles Brad experiences in his survival efforts amid the dangers of the jungles of Viet Nam while avoiding the threat of death or the tortures of imprisonment by the patrols of the Vietcong.

I enjoy well-written memoirs that read like fiction and, conversely, fiction with a plot and writing that convey reality.  Simpson’s fiction is so well written that I felt I was reading his personal memoirs. I identified with Brad Howard and others of his well-developed characters, his amazing descriptions of the era, and the feelings and emotions generated through the first-person narrative used in this novel.

Simpson’s amazing attention to detail brings all five senses into play as he describes the itchy burning from insect bites coupled with crawling fleas on his sweaty skin. I could almost feel the pain and soreness of his cramped muscles and joints, the turmoil of his stomach as he fed on grubs, snake meat, wild rabbit, or a raw lizard, and “the reeking waves” of his nauseating body odor.

In a unique and surprising way Simpson effectively introduces a heartwarming secondary story that runs parallel with his main plot of survival. Brad reflects on his childhood and coming of age during an era of innocence in the state of Colorado. Brad uses his reflections as an escape mechanism to keep his mind off the danger, monotony, and self-pity of the long lonely hours and days of living with the constant trauma, stress, and hardships faced while existing to survive. 

I have read many stories, fiction and nonfiction, related by Viet Nam veterans telling of the horrors of jungle warfare, post traumatic syndrome, and the difficulty of being assimilated back into society after returning home. I Must Survive is a fresh and powerful tribute to the men who served our country in Viet Nam.

(Reviewed by Richard R. Blake for Reader Views)

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