Dreaming the Enemy
Dreaming the Enemy starts when 19-year-old Johnny Shoebridge, an Australian country boy from a hard-working, traditional community, returns from Vietnam. A damaged soul, and aged beyond his years by his experiences, he attempts to carve out a possible future for himself. This emotional journey takes him away from civilisation and to the edge of the Australian bush.
Here, to ease his conscience for the lives he’s taken and the friends he was unable to save, he dreams up an alter ego, Khan. This gives him an extraordinary insight into what the fighting and living through the war would have been for the other side, providing the reader with an unexpected human side to the brutal Vietcong. The story slips back and forth in time, from present day to flash-backs of the action in Vietnam, as well as to Johnny “floating”, ghost-like, over Khan and his life as Johnny imagines it to be now; in many ways not so different from his own. His own pain and that of his alter ego is palpable.
Most stories of returning Vietnam veterans are about Americans, and it was interesting to read an Australian perspective. The novel carries a strong anti-war message, questioning the morality of Australia’s participation in the Vietnam War, but this is done with the lightest of touches. The truth is highlighted to Johnny—and to the reader—that those he perceives as the enemy also see him as an enemy, and even more so because he’s an invader.
Despite the complex structure and the difficulty in knowing what’s real and what’s imagined, this is lyrical, suspenseful and evocative story-telling at its best, almost spiritual in its lovely, unusual descriptions, and the most beautiful book I’ve read in a long time. Suitable for teenagers aged 17+.