Thursday, August 19, 2010

Paperback Flashback: Combat by Van Van Praag

Celebrating vintage paperbacks--both the cheesy & the profound.
But mostly the cheesy.

Men.  War.  Killing.

Post-war pulp fiction like this either brought back fond memories of gunning down Germans or it triggered horrific flashbacks to those maelstroms of screaming bombardments.  I don't know much about this book by the man with the stuttering name, other than it's about KILLING.  The Wikipedia page for the movie based on the book (1957's Men in War, starring Aldo Ray and Robert Ryan, changes the setting from World War II Normandy to the Korean War) offers a more intriguing plot summary--assuming the movie was faithful to the book, which is hardly ever the case.

Opening Lines:  Through the ground mist dawn began to light the battered fields.  Shafts of gray appeared between the leaves of the gnarled trees, and night shadows faded.  Some miles to the south, scattered flashes tore open the hovering day, baring the skies in brief nakedness.  Following the flashes came solemn rumbles which echoed from hill to hill, bounded off house and barn and shed doors, and reached down into holes in the ground with mournful promise.

Page 100:

I captured this one about a year ago while browsing an antique store in Bigfork, Montana.  Okay, that's a bit of a lie--I never just browse an antique store, I power-shop!  I haven't read Combat, and seriously doubt I ever will, based on the adjective-heavy, plodding sentences quoted above.  BUT....

I seriously love that cover: the Sgt. Rock crouch, the blood-red box behind the title, and the perfect silhouette of the falling German and his weapon.  If I lean close to the cover, I can even hear the "Aiiii-yeeeee" of the falling/dying sniper.  Perfect in all regards.

But that back-cover prose.  Oh me, oh my!  It's about as turgid as what's between the covers.  I picture the copy-man writing that "Kill"-filled crap as some flat-footed adenoid who never made it past the Fort Dix, N.J. typing pool during the war.

Apart from the interesting Dutch-y name, the only thing I know about the author comes from this brief bio inside the front cover:  "The simplicity and natural power of Van Van Praag's writing can be partly explained by the fact that he has led an informal life.  Born in New York City in 1920, he has been a truck salesman, a World's Fair lecturer, a tentative and temporary hobo, and a soldier.  Mr. Van Praag spent five years in the army.  After enlisting he was promoted through the ranks until he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant.  He fought in France as a platoon leader, was wounded and returned home a casualty."

My only question is: what th' hell's a "tentative and temporary hobo"?


  1. Great post and terribly fun to read. A welcome relief in my own maelstrom of the day.

  2. Considering the personal front-line battlefield experience of COMBAT's author, Van van Praage, surely deserves a less sneering review. Just now, I took down my dusty paperback version of COMBAT for another read. Seems to me as authentically written as ever.