Black Virgin Mountain By Larry Heinemann Doubleday, $179 As a 22-year-old draftee, Larry Heinemann spent a year in Vietnam as a combat soldier stationed at Cu Chi and Dau Tieng. By the time he received his discharge papers in March 1968, bitterness over the war had consumed him. Heinemann flew home, 'pissed off and ground down by a bottomless grief', and, courtesy of the GI Bill and Columbia College, Chicago, began writing about his 'war year of soul-deadening dread'. In Black Virgin Mountain, his third book based on wartime experiences, Heinemann writes: 'The impulse to tell the story of the war rose out of an undeniable authenticity of exhausted and smothered rage perhaps more bitter than the tongue can tell.' Whereas his previous books, Close Quarters (1977) and Paco's Story (1987), winner of the National Book Award, recounted fictionalised episodes from the war, this time round Heinemann turns to non-fiction. Part memoir, part travelogue, Black Virgin Mountain traces a train journey the author undertook in 1992 in the company of Larry Rottman, a poet and prominent member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, as guests of the Vietnam Writers' Association. The two Larrys travel south from Hanoi, passing through Vinh, birthplace of revolutionary political leader Ho Chi Minh; Hue, the former imperial capital; Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it's still commonly called; and Cu Chi, home to the underground tunnels dug by the Vietcong, a must-see for war tourists on the 'war nostalgia tour'. The journey ends at Nui Ba Den, or Black Virgin Mountain, a pyramid-like granite mass that dominates the skyline around Tay Ninh. Although this is the book's namesake, it receives scant attention. Much of the time is taken up with protracted exposition. We start in 1966 with a blow-by-blow account of Heinemann's tour of duty. During this section Heinemann rails at the stupidity of the war, at US military leaders such as General William C. Westmoreland ('If there was a bigger fool in Southeast Asia ... I have yet to hear his name'); Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon; Bob Hope, 'that grandiose, stuffy old hack'; Hollywood; US high schools that allow buffed-up army recruiters to pep-talk teenagers into joining the military; the French, the former colonial overlords in Vietnam; and the US, in general, referring to his country's 'big-me selfish, schizophrenic pride'. Having cleared that lot off his chest, Heinemann starts the road trip, an extended travel feature on Thailand and Vietnam with snippets of history about the war thrown in. It's not until the last chapter that Heinemann re-engages the reader and explains the reason for the mountain's symbolic status as he recounts a battle that took place in the shadow of the Black Virgin Mountain - which filmmaker Oliver Stone used in Platoon.