Death Coming Up the Hill by Chris Crowe
Review written by Katie Sanghera
Chris Crowe’s ‘Death Coming Up the Hill’ is a coming of age story set in the Vietnam War. Despite the hard-hitting premise of the book, Crowe’s words have a lyrical lightness to them, partly because the novel is made up completely of haikus.
“There’s something tidy
in seventeen syllables,
a haiku neatness
that leaves craters of
meaning between the lines but
what matters most.”
‘Death Coming up The Hill’ paints a picture of the Vietnam War from the perspective of Ashe, an American seventeen-year-old. His narrative is laced with fear and sorrow for the American soldiers fighting in a senseless and inhumane war. All too aware that he could be enlisted as a soldier in the near future, Ashe lives in a state of anxiety and is already caught in the crossfire between his mother and father at home. Having married young his parents now couldn’t be more different; his mother is an ardent peace-activist, playing an active role in anti-war rallies and his father a vociferous racist.
Ashe finds some solace in his studies but still feels troubled by the tumultuous political climate in which he finds himself approaching adulthood; he feels the effects of war reverberating through America. As things begin to look brighter for Ashe, an incident inflames his parents’ marriage to the point of explosion and he is forced to make a very difficult decision.
Throughout the story, Ashe is haunted by the weekly casualty reports published in the newspapers. This is really the crux of the book and why Crowe wrote it the way he did. Crowe explains that the number 17 holds real significance and was the starting point from which the various themes and storylines unravelled. And so this is how Crowe meticulously mapped the form of his book. It is divided into 17 sections. A haiku is made up of 17 syllables. The American death toll of 1968 can be divided into 17, meaning Crowe dedicated a syllable for every American soldier that died in 1968. You have to admire his efforts.
The book is certainly an easy read. Crowe’s syllabic obsession paid off as his stanzas roll off one another seamlessly. The content, I found at times slightly shallow. I understand that the novel was written specifically from an American outlook. It touches on the turbulence and discrimination in America at the time and is undeniably written from an anti-war perspective, but I found the absence of empathy towards Vietnam and its soldiers troubling. It feels as though Crowe tiptoed around the deeper issues of the Vietnam War and does not commit to taking a political viewpoint either way.
I read this book in about an hour and enjoyed it. Crowe’s writing is gentle and lilting, a stark contrast to the very real horror that the characters are consumed by. It is a worthwhile and beautifully structured read.
Katie Sanghera is a book enthusiast and foodie living in Hanoi. She enjoys writing pieces about arts and culture. Contact: [email protected]