Jacobo’s Rainbow by David Hirshberg

Can the mystical Jewish demon, the Golem, save the lives of two Army medics in the jungle during the Vietnam War? Did you know that there were Jews living in India for many centuries? Or about people known as “Conversos” who, since the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal, have lived outwardly as Catholics but secretly observe Jewish rituals in private, including in communities in the Southwestern United States?

If you read David Hirshberg’s novel, Jacobo’s Rainbow (Fig Tree Books, 352 pp. $15.49, hardcover; $1.99, Kindle), you will find the answers to all of these questions.

In the book the pseudonymous Hirshberg tells how the Jewish people have had to be resilient in resisting anti-Semitism for millennia. The novel is set in Vietnam during the war and at fictional university in New Mexico where a student free speech movement and antiwar protests converge.

The anti-Semitism of a student leader affects some Jewish students who are part of the movement. One thing leads to another and then one of the young Jews is arrested and a judge gives him a choice of going to jail or getting drafted. He chooses the latter and is sent to Vietnam where he undergoes heavy combat. I served in the rear in that war, so I can’t address the accuracy of the book’s combat scenes, but they seem a bit out of sync with the real deal.

In addition to the in-country action, a lot happens on campus as students face off with the college administrators and the police. Plus, we get tepid romances between some of the characters. Ultimately, there is an answer to the question of whether justice will prevail among the book’s characters. 

As someone who is Jewish, who served in the Army in Vietnam, and also was involved in the antiwar movement, I found the depictions of both to be interesting, but not riveting. It is likely that this book will appeal to some Jewish readers. Whether it will be attractive to a broader audience remains to be seen.

— Bruce I. Waxman

Dirty Copper by Jim Northrup

The poet, novelist, storyteller, and columnist Jim Northrup’s latest book is a short, fast-reading novel, Dirty Copper (Fulcrum Publishing, 203 pp., $15.95). In it, Northrup spins out the story of Luke Warmwater—the hero of his award-winning short story collection, Walking the Rez Road  (1993)—who is back home on the Anishinaabe reservation in northern Minnesota after surviving a harrowing tour of duty with the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam.

Jim Northrup enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1962, and served for four years. That included a thirteen-month tour of duty in Vietnam with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines in the 3rd Marine Division from 1965-66.

The Vietnam War is never far from Luke Warmwater’s thoughts in this engaging novel, which covers his first few years after getting home. Warmwater has post-war nightmares and daytime flashbacks after becoming the first Native American deputy sheriff in Carlton County, Minnesota. He then moves on to a job in the Waukegan, Illinois, Police Department.

Jim Northrup

Northrop tells Warmwater’s story in bursts of short, simple sentences. The style works well to illuminate the day-to-day details of this Vietnam veteran’s life, as well as his flashbacks and nightmares.

The themes are both broad (Vietnam veterans’ readjustment problems after coming home from the war; institutionalized racism and discrimination faced by Native Americans) and narrow (Luke Warmwater’s love life, family life, and work life).

Jim Northrup will receive the Vietnam Veterans of America Excellence in the Arts Award at our National Leadership & Education Conference next month. His website is www.jimnorthrup.org

—Marc Leepson