Picks and Pans Review: Horn of Africa

updated 11/10/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/10/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Philip Caputo

Two splendid books came out of the Vietnam war: Michael Herr's Dispatches and Philip Caputo's A Rumor of War. Now Caputo, who was a Marine in Vietnam and later covered the war in Ethiopia for the Chicago Tribune, has turned his experiences in Africa into a big, macho novel. The narrator is a news correspondent recruited as a gunrunner. His way of life is convincingly described by Caputo, whose reportorial eye for detail captures a vivid, beautifully defined landscape of harsh nature and primitive violence. But the central figure of the novel, an American soldier of fortune named Nordstrand, is unbelievable. He is one of those larger-than-life males who usually appear only in pulp adventures. Nordstrand is an evil superman bent on all manner of destruction. The narrator tries to lose himself by reading Les Misérables and observes, "All would die but me. I was destined, by the caprice that governs the universe, to survive and bear witness and to perform my own final act of loyalty to Jeremy Nordstrand." That sort of melodrama robs Horn of Africa of much of its power. (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, $12.95)

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