Books like Tree of Smoke

Tree of Smoke

2007, Denis Johnson


Tree of Smoke is a 2007 novel by American author Denis Johnson which won the National Book Award for Fiction and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. It is about a man named Skip Sands who joins the CIA in 1965, and begins working in Vietnam during the American involvement there. The time frame of the novel is from 1963 to 1970, with a coda set in 1983. One of the protagonists of Tree of Smoke is Bill Houston, who was the main character in Johnson's 1983 debut novel Angels.

There are several references in the novel to the title phrase, which has Biblical origins in three cited passages: Song of Solomon 3:6; Book of Joel 2:30, 31; and Exodus 33:9, 10.

Johnson's novel revolves around the associations and interactions with Francis X. Sands, a retired Air Force colonel and war hero, now a CIA official in Southeast Asia. The story is told primarily from the point of view of his nephew, William "Skip" Sands; Infantry Private James Houston and his brother Bill; and Kathy Jones, a Canadian NGO worker. The plot also includes minor but important characters Major Eddie Aguinaldo, a Filipino army officer; Nguyen Hao and his nephew Minh who work for Colonel Sands; Trung Than, Nguyen Hao's Vietcong friend turned double agent; Sergeant Jimmy Storm, a henchman of the Colonel; and a German assassin named Dietrich Fest.

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