Text by Michael Mullen, Professor of English, Vincennes (IN) University
Not long after he completed Touch of Danger, Jones received a call from the New York Times about going to Vietnam to write about what it was like there following the cease-fire. What they wanted was a novelist's viewpoint, and while they did not offer Jones a lot of money, they were going to pay all of his expenses and told him he could get a book out of the experience.
Jones had his doubts--"I was just starting back to work on a big novel [Whistle], one I had put aside twice, to do something else"--and his wife was against it, but still he wanted to make the trip. Part of this desire was a result of Jones's concern about his age. "I cast around," he wrote, "trying to analyze why I wanted to go. Finally I said I wanted to go because I was fifty-two. ...I would probably never get another chance at adventure like this, I went on. In a few more years, one more novel perhaps, and I would be too old for it." The Times had given Jones two days to decide. He didn't need that long. "Something else a lot more powerful than politics was working me," Jones wrote, "that sense of encroaching age and a last adventure, telling me to go."
More than a trip to another country, Jones's trip was to another time, to his own army experiences and his own youth. These memories, almost from the moment Jones left Paris, pervade the book and culminate in an epilogue titled "Hawaiian Recall" describing his stopover in Hawaii as he was returning home.
In Hawaii, Jones visited many of the places he knew so well from his earlier stay there and is many times faced with the impermanence of nature as opposed to the impermanence of human life. The epilogue ends with Jones at the airport commenting, "I had come back hoping to meet a certain twenty-year-old boy, walking along Kalakaua Avenue in a 'gook' shirt, perhaps, but I had not seen him."
As had happened with Touch of Danger the year before, few reviewers thought Viet Journal was a major work and so only a handful of them wrote more than one or two paragraphs evaluating the book. Many discussed the idea of sending Jones to Vietnam to report on the cease-fire and some thought it a good idea, some didn't. Some liked the results, some didn't. And some thought the epilogue was a touching piece of nostalgia, and some thought it was filled with self-pity. Interestingly, it was frequently the reviewers who liked Jones's reporting about Vietnam who either ignored or dismissed "Hawaiian Recall" and the reviewers who thought Jones had nothing new to say about Vietnam who most favorably responded to Jones's epilogue.