Milo Samardzija’s title alerted me that the subject of his book, Wassermann Gardens (Publish Green, 170 pp., $8.99, Kindle), might be venereal in nature. I was not disappointed. The author has taken the old Vietnam War myth about an island where soldiers with incurable sexually transmitted diseases were marooned for eternity and turned it into a dystopian allegory of how Vietnam veterans were treated by society when they returned home.
Just a chapter or two into this short, powerful novel, my mind was reeling with thoughts of other populations of people on islands: especially Lord of the Flies. But there also were intimations of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, Robinson Crusoe, and Richard Connell’s short story, The Most Dangerous Game.
We are told that the soldiers living on this island are Vietnam veterans, although initially there were soldiers from America’s earlier wars there. Death has claimed the older veterans—and the newer ones, too, at a rapid rate. Many are blind as a result of their venereal diseases. The blind are not popular on the island as they demand special treatment.
The helicopter that delivers their rations is often late, sometimes by weeks. The venereal-diseased veterans have denuded the island without seriously considering becoming self-sufficient by fishing the surrounding waters.The men have few skills and are not dedicated to trying to learn any. They just want to be fed by the food from the helicopter. They do not work together as teams to survive.
A scheme is hatched to mob a helicopter and escape. One of the smarter captives has figured out that the men are on one of the islands in the Philippines. That plot goes awry, of course, and results in dire consequences. A main character named Marlowe tries to do things right, at least according to tenets he believes in, but madness finds him.
This grim tale provides much food for thought. I enjoyed reading it, but I have a dark view of the world—and a dark view of the Vietnam War.
These disease-ridden Vietnam veterans are a part of the past that America does not want to own up to, which led me to often to think of the current scandals in the VA hospitals. Perhaps the author intended that a reader be provoked in that direction.