cover image Indian Country

Indian Country

Philip Caputo. Bantam Books, $18.95 (419pp) ISBN 978-0-553-05187-2

Caputo, best known as author of the much-admired A Rumor of War, returns to the Vietnam conflict in this powerfully conceived, ambitious novelthough this time it is seen as a cataclysm that casts its shadow over a man's life. He is Christian Starkmann, son of a stern, antiwar pastor in the forested depths of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. As a youth he was bound closely in friendship to a young Indian, Boniface, and determines to go with him to the war. Boniface is killed, Starkmann blames himself, and henceforth he battles for his sanity in a civilian world grown suddenly hostile. His strongest ally in the struggle is his wife June, a sturdy soul whose portrait is Caputo's triumph: rendered utterly without false sentiment, she is a proud, loving, independent woman. Caputo is after something beyond merely resolving whether June can heal Christian, however. At another level his novel is about Indian and white ways of looking at reality, and in several daring passages he takes us into the mind of an elderly Indian medicine man, Boniface's grandfather. More than once the book teeters on the edge of pseudo-poetic mumbo-jumbo, and there are some superfluous and overwrought episodes; but the strength and sinew of Caputo's writing carries his novel through to a truly deserved, deeply felt catharsis. (May 14)