Post-Vietnam awakening. Black veterans come home
De Mojo Blues, by A. R. Flowers. New York: Dutton. 216 pp. $16.95. Tucept HighJohn, Michael Daniels, and William E. Burghart Dubois (``Willie D.'') Brown are walking down the ramp of a plane appropriately named ``The Freedom Bird.'' It is 1970, and these three black soldiers are returning from Vietnam in handcuffs. Around them, other soldiers look away in shame. From a podium, an army major says, ``Welcome to the States.'' The men are dismissed from the service and treated to a steak dinner.
Afterwards, the three resume life in Oakland, Calif. -- afro haircuts, friendships with other Vietnam veterans, and women involved with a new female independence called Black Feminism. At parties, they hear Marvin Gaye singing ``What's happenin', Brother?''
Tucept finds, on returning home, that his mother is a little older and thicker around the waist; his sister has become an unwed mother; and his former college friends and fraternity brothers still consider him to be ``gung ho,'' because he enlisted with naive expectations about the war. But Tucept's sleep is disturbed by recurring nightmares of helicopters and ambushes, of soldiers in rice paddies, and of the army engaged in a war that the country did not understand and was beginning to question.
The novel focuses on Tucept rather than on his friends, but it is neither a war novel nor a tale of black soldiers in combat. It is, in some ways, similar to MacKinley Kantor's prose poem ``Glory For Me,'' which became the award-winning film ``The Best Years of Our Lives,'' both of which are sympathetic to the soldier returning to a postwar America.
Unlike other Vietnam fictions, ``De Mojo Blues'' is a positive affirmation of men awakening to the shortcomings of a preconceived maleness, and to an acceptance of guilt about war and the men who fought. It is a book that other Vietnam veterans will find moving and worthy of respect, and it concerns the maturing of the black veteran as well as of the soldier in combat.
But ``De Mojo Blues'' may appear at first difficult. It is written in a style common to black poetry of that era -- a black English which is both flippant and privately serious, and which sets the tone for a parable about the restructuring of the black community in the wake of urban riots and insurrection. The book's language recalls Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston and, as with those writers, the style adds much to the authenticity of place and character. The reader comes to understand Flowers's people in terms of their culture, language, and values.
Unlike James Jones's last novel, ``Whistle,'' which deals with the postwar soldier who, out of place in civilian life and unable to cope, perishes, the men in ``De Mojo Blues'' survive to provide the reader with a sense of history and the pleasure of a story well told.