Hill 568 Hill 568 by Zack Emerson
Publisher: Scholastic
Year: 1991
Pages: 230

See the previous book in this series, Welcome to Vietnam

Most novels or series of novels about war inevitably come to the climactic moment where is illustrated the old saying, “War is Hell.” Hill 568 is the second novel in Zack Emerson’s (Ellen Emerson White’s) series about Vietnam, and it’s firmly by this point that the series has gone past its sit-com beginnings (mixed-race squad; all that’s missing is Archie Bunker as a lieutenant) and descended into the sort of implicit antiwar feeling that marks most books of its nature.

Hill battles were common in Vietnam, and they have become an exemplification of the pointless of the war…. they tended to be bloody, hellish battles for a godforsaken hill whose official designation is its height; in Emerson’s case, the hill is 568 meters high. The real-life parallel is, I imagine, “Hamburger Hill” (which she mentions in later books).

Once again narrated from the viewpoint of Michael “Meat” Jennings, Hill 568 turns darker and bleaker as Michael becomes the new “point” man—that is, the soldier who leads the squad through the jungle, and is the person most likely to get mowed down from sniper fire or blown to bits by land mines1. Much of Jennings’ internal monologue is turned toward the concept of death, in response to the sudden death of a squad member in the previous book. Then, too, the climactic hill battle from which the book takes its name is as bloody and pointless and awful as you might imagine.

Actually, I found that same hill battle to be the weak point of the book; of the series, in fact. It seemed the most strained, as though Emerson wasn’t quite sure how to write it, and the result was a stilted sort of heroism on Jennings’ part that wasn’t consistent either with his behavior or the previous tone of the book. Thankfully, the stilted bits are short, and the majority of the book is Emerson’s consistently-good psychological slog through the minds of her characters.

Strictly speaking, there was no reason for Hill 568 and its predecessor, Welcome to Vietnam, to be separate books. They are thematically the same, occupy the same contiguous space on a timeline, and deal with largely the same machinations of plot. Whether separate or not, Hill 568 is an another excellent entry in this woefully underappreciated series.

  1. During the war, more soldiers were wounded by mines and booby traps than gunfire[]
§4434 · September 10, 2009 · Tags: , , , ·

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