Going After Cacciato

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Sarkin Aung Wan Character Analysis

A young woman raised in Saigon—her age is never specified—Sarkin Aung Wan is an intelligent, often wily character, who quickly becomes another member of the soldiers’ squad during their mission to Paris. The soldiers first come across Sarkin when they shoot her buffalo. Afterwards, she joins their mission, proving her worth by translating the soldiers’ words into Vietnamese and, in one surreal interlude, saving the soldiers from a vast tunnel by making them “fall out.” Sarkin, it’s suggested, knows how to use her sexuality to achieve what she wants. While she’s close with Paul Berlin for most of the novel, O’Brien implies that she has no special feelings for him: she’ll latch on to whomever can help her survive best. Indeed, she ends up running off with Lieutenant Corson in Paris.

Sarkin Aung Wan Quotes in Going After Cacciato

The Going After Cacciato quotes below are all either spoken by Sarkin Aung Wan or refer to Sarkin Aung Wan . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fantasy, Magical Realism, and Storytelling Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Broadway Books edition of Going After Cacciato published in 1999.
Chapter 10 Quotes

Then they were falling. Paul Berlin felt it in his stomach. A tumbling sensation. There was time to snatch for Sarkin Aung Wan's hand, squeeze tight, and then they were falling. The road was gone and they were simply falling, all of them, Oscar and Eddie and Doc, the old lieutenant, the buffalo and the cart and the old women, everything, tumbling down a hole in the road to Paris.

Related Characters: Paul Berlin , Lieutenant Corson , Sarkin Aung Wan , Oscar Johnson , Eddie Lazzutti
Related Symbols: Paris, Tunnels
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul Berlin and his fellow soldiers have stumbled upon a secret Vietcong lair, which may or may not be booby-trapped. Berlin and his fellow soldiers fall underneath the ground, though O'Brien never describes exactly how. It's left up to us to decide whether the episode is real or imagined: certainly, American soldiers encountered more surreal spectacles during their service in the war (and the Vietcong did have a complex system of tunnels during the war), and yet O'Brien depicts the soldiers' fall underground in fantastical terms that echo Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, making us wonder if the entire scene is a dream or hallucination of some kind.

The soldiers' fall is deliberately paralleled with Cacciato's flight: Cacciato is slowly freeing himself from his duty to the military, while his fellow soldiers find themselves mired in the horrors of war. Once again, the soldiers associate Paris with peace, escape, and tranquility--and the hole into which they have fallen delays their journey to Paris. (Of course, it's worth noting that the peace and prosperity of Paris comes in part from the exploitation of poorer countries and its former colonies like Vietnam--surely a deliberate choice of symbol on O'Brien's part.)

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Chapter 13 Quotes

"The soldier is but the representative of the land. The land is your true enemy." He paused. "There is an ancient ideograph—the word Xa. It means—" He looked to Sarkin Aung Wan for help.
"Community," she said. "It means community, and soil, and home."
"Yes," nodded Li Van Hgoc. "Yes, but it also has other meanings: earth and sky and even sacredness. Xa, it has many implications. But at heart it means that a man's spirit is in the land, where his ancestors rest and where the rice grows. The land is your enemy."

Related Characters: Sarkin Aung Wan (speaker), Li Van Hgoc / Van (speaker)
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul Berlin and his fellow troops--along with a Vietnamese woman named Sarkin, whom the soldiers have encountered during their mission--fall into a tunnel and stumble upon a Vietcong soldier named Li Van Hgoc. Because he tried to escape the Vietcong, we slowly realize, Hgoc has been forced to live in the tunnel, never to see the light of day.

Here, Hgoc makes the strange claim that a soldier is just a representative of his "land." In other words, soldiers on opposite sides of a war might not bear one another any hatred at all--they've merely been ordered to fight on behalf of their community, country, or city. Although Hgoc is trying to argue that soldiers are fighting against a country, not individual people, his argument has an ironic double-meaning. In a very practical sense, the American soldiers' own land is their enemy: powerful government officials have ordered them to fight against their will, risking their lives and mental health in the process. And on another level, Hgoc's claim speaks to the sense of futility behind the entire Vietnam War effort--there is no concrete enemy that can be defeated, but an entire "land" that works against the American soldiers on multiple levels.

Chapter 15 Quotes

Sarkin Aung Wan uncurled her legs and stood up.
"There is a way," she said.
The lieutenant kept studying his hands. The fingers trembled.
"The way in is the way out."
Li Van Hgoc laughed but the girl ignored it.
"The way in," she repeated, "is the way out. To flee Xa one must join it. To go home one must become a refugee."
"Riddles!" Li Van Hgoc spat. "Insane!"
Sarkin Aung Wan took Paul Berlin's hand. "Do you see?" she said. "You do need me."

Related Characters: Sarkin Aung Wan (speaker), Li Van Hgoc / Van (speaker), Paul Berlin , Lieutenant Corson
Related Symbols: Tunnels
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

Sarkin, who is still trapped underground with Paul Berlin and the other soldiers, offers some ambiguous wisdom in this passage: "the way in is the way out." Sarkin thinks that she has a way of escaping the tunnels--even though Hgoc, who's been around for far longer, denies any possibility of escape.

It's hard to take Sarkin's words literally (by this point in the novel, we're so confused about the tunnels that we don't know what to believe). But on a symbolic level, Sarkin's pronouncement has a lot to say about the soldiers' state of mind. Traumatized by war, Berlin and his friends are trying to return "home"--both in the sense that they're trying to make it back to the U.S. in one piece, and in the sense that they're trying to preserve their sanity. Just as Sarkin implies, in order to savor one's home, one must first become an outsider. We see this through Paul Berlin's behavior: not too long ago, he was a frustrated young man, eager to leave his home and fight in the army--now, however, he's desperate to return to the homeland and state of innocence he left behind. In short, Sarkin's ideas reflect the soldiers' broken-down, yet strangely optimistic, worldview.

Chapter 38 Quotes

Like a daughter caring for an ailing father, she encouraged him to eat and exercise, coddled him, scolded him, gently coaxed him into showing some concern for his own welfare and that of his men. The lieutenant seemed deeply attached to her. It was an unspoken thing. They would sometimes spend whole days together, walking the decks or throwing darts or simply sitting in the sun.
When the lieutenant showed signs of the old withdrawal, Sarkin Aung Wan would remind him of his responsibilities. "A leader must lead," she would say. "Without leadership, a leader is nothing."

Related Characters: Sarkin Aung Wan (speaker), Lieutenant Corson
Page Number: 256
Explanation and Analysis:

As Sarkin, Paul, and the other troops get closer and closer to Paris, their commander, Lieutenant Corson, gets more and more healthy. In war, Corson was sickly and ineffectual, but away from battle he seems to have regained his strength. Corson's improving illustrates the personal toll that war takes on a human life, whether one lives or dies. The Lieutenant has fought in many wars, and over a lifetime of battle, he's accumulated more weakness and sadness than most people could bear.

It's also important, of course, to note that it's Sarkin who cares for Corson. Even though Corson is a symbol of destruction and aggression in Sarkin's native country of Vietnam, Sarkin still treats him with kindness.

Chapter 44 Quotes

Spec Four Paul Berlin: I am asking for a break from violence. But I am also asking for a positive commitment. You yearn for normality—an average house in an average town, a garden, perhaps a wife, the chance to grow old. Realize these things. Give up this fruitless pursuit of Cacciato. Forget him. Live now the dream you have dreamed. See Paris and enjoy it. Be happy. It is possible. It is within reach of a single decision.”

Related Characters: Sarkin Aung Wan (speaker), Paul Berlin , Cacciato
Related Symbols: Paris
Page Number: 318
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Sarkin Aung Wan asks her lover, Paul Berlin, to stay with her in Paris. Paul has reached a cross-roads: thus far, he could always pretend that he was following military orders by pursuing Cacciato to Paris, even when it was clear that he was really going to Paris to escape the war. Now, Paul and his friends are about to be chased out of the city: the authorities have finally caught up with them, and they know Paul is a deserter. Sarkin asks Paul to stay behind with her, risking arrest but also possibly gaining true happiness.

One should keep in mind that Sarkin might be an opportunist, more interested in having money and a nice apartment than in Paul himself. But in a sense, Sarkin is exactly right. Paul isn't just following his orders; he's choosing to have a difficult life. He obeys authorities and goes with the group, even when doing so makes him miserable and endangers his life.

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Sarkin Aung Wan Character Timeline in Going After Cacciato

The timeline below shows where the character Sarkin Aung Wan appears in Going After Cacciato. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 6
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The soldiers continue asking the women questions. The youngest woman’s name, she claims, is Sarkin Aung Wang. She has been a refugee for many months, and has been traveling West,... (full context)
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...the three women. The aunts continue weeping for Nguyen. As everyone eats, Paul Berlin watches Sarkin, whom he finds very beautiful. He can’t place her age—she could be twelve, fifteen, or... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...them in a cart. During Paul Berlin’s time in the cart, he gets to know Sarkin Aung Wan better. He likes her smell, her smile, and her beauty. She tells Paul... (full context)
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...up camp and build a fire, and every night, the two aunts weep for Nguyen. Sarkin does not cry. One day, while she’s walking with Paul Berlin, she asks him if... (full context)
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Shortly after Berlin’s conversation with Sarkin, Berlin asks Lieutenant Corson about keeping Sarkin around as a guide—she could be useful, since... (full context)
Chapter 10
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In the evening, the soldiers prepare for their walk through the jungle. Paul Berlin finds Sarkin and tells her that they’ll have to let her go soon. Sarkin begs Berlin to... (full context)
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...move particularly slowly, so that they spend as much time with the women as possible. Sarkin squeezes Berlin’s hand and whispers, “You will find a way.” Then Lieutenant Corson swats the... (full context)
Chapter 13
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...into a bizarre hole. Berlin reflexively reaches for his weapon. He can see the buffalo, Sarkin, and her aunts. Suddenly, Sarkin’s aunts are “gone,” never to return. Berlin senses that he... (full context)
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...to defend their land—the land, then, is the U.S. army’s real enemy. As Van speaks, Sarkin helps to translate his words. After the soldiers finish asking Van questions, he shows them... (full context)
Chapter 15
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...to think of a way out of the tunnels, as clearly, Van can’t help them. Sarkin speaks up and says that there is a way to escape: “The way in is... (full context)
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Sarkin leads the soldiers through the tunnels. Time stretches on, and Berlin isn’t sure if the... (full context)
Chapter 17
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Following the events of chapter 15, Sarkin Aung Wan leads the soldiers out of the tunnels, through sewage, until they come to... (full context)
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...cuts ahead a few more hours. Paul Berlin is sitting in a hotel room with Sarkin Aung Wan, who is clipping his toenails. Sarkin asks Berlin—whom she’s begun to call “Spec... (full context)
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...morning, the soldiers leave their hotel and begin searching Mandalay for Cacciato. Berlin searches with Sarkin to help him, and he navigates through markets, churches, etc. Berlin feels happy—the city is... (full context)
Chapter 18
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...by the new routine, and he can’t imagine where Cacciato could be. He walks with Sarkin through restaurants and teashops, never seeing a sign of Cacciato. Berlin tries to remember details... (full context)
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One day, Berlin and Sarkin are walking through Mandalay when Berlin—much to his amazement—sees Cacciato walking less than six feet... (full context)
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When Berlin wakes up, he’s lying alone in a park, with Sarkin standing over him. Sarkin explains that he’s been passed out for hours. Berlin asks which... (full context)
Chapter 23
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The evening goes on, and Berlin spends time with Sarkin, drinking brandy and kissing her neck. Meanwhile, Corson is still talking to Jolly, but then... (full context)
Chapter 26
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...and Cacciato is nowhere in sight. Paul Berlin spends nearly all of his time with Sarkin. They go shopping for clothing and jewelry, and take long walks through the city streets.... (full context)
Chapter 29
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...Rhallon orders sandwiches and tea for the soldiers, and they accept without hesitation. Rhallon notices Sarkin—still traveling with the soldiers, and clearly not a soldier. He asks Doc how it’s possible... (full context)
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As the other soldiers dance and argue, Paul Berlin dances with Sarkin. Berlin overhears Doc telling Captain Rhallon “the ultimate war story”—the story of how Billy Boy... (full context)
Chapter 33
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...handcuffed and brought into a large room, along with Stink, Eddie, Doc, Oscar, and Corson. Sarkin is thrown into this room as well. She kisses Berlin’s throat. Berlin sees that there... (full context)
Chapter 36
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In his dreams, Berlin imagines Cacciato’s round face. Suddenly, he feels Sarkin shaking him awake. Sarkin tells him that he needs to go, immediately. Berlin imagines Cacciato... (full context)
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...car, too—“why not?” he thinks. Oscar drives everyone away from the prison. Berlin sits with Sarkin in the back seat. Oscar drives through Tehran, eventually driving onto a huge traffic loop.... (full context)
Chapter 38
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...Athens is remarkably calm—indeed, Lieutenant Corson’s health improves with the sun and fresh sea air. Sarkin is largely responsible for restoring Corson’s health, as well. She spends long periods of time... (full context)
Chapter 40
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Oscar drives the soldiers and Sarkin into Germany. They pass by the Danube. “It was easy,” the narrator maintains. Berlin is... (full context)
Chapter 43
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Berlin, Sarkin, and the other soldiers leave their train and begin their stay in Paris. Berlin notes... (full context)
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One day, Sarkin suggests that she and Paul Berlin move into an apartment in Paris. Berlin is interested... (full context)
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In the coming days, Berlin and Sarkin look for apartments in Paris. Some are “impossible,” while others are both charming and affordably... (full context)
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Shortly after their apartment visit, Berlin and Sarkin go to speak with Berlin’s fellow soldiers. Berlin is planning to tell them that he... (full context)
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...smiles, not unkindly. Corson explains that there’s no difference whether Berlin spends his time with Sarkin or his fellow soldiers—in either case, he’s already “split” by leaving the war in Vietnam.... (full context)
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Berlin leaves Corson, returns to Sarkin, and tells her, “it’s done.” Sarkin, pleased, takes Berlin to shop for silverware and other... (full context)
Chapter 44
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The chapter begins with the soldiers and Sarkin walking through the streets of Paris, away from their hotel. Berlin asks the soldiers why... (full context)
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...up, and Berlin suggests that they “take a chance” on the apartment where he and Sarkin had been planning to live. Berlin brings the soldiers to his new home, and they... (full context)
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...days patrolling the streets of Paris. At night, he goes back to his apartment with Sarkin, but they’re not happy together—Berlin can sense that he won’t be able to relax until... (full context)
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...describing a scene from a play. He urges the reader to “imagine” a debate between Sarkin and Paul Berlin. The debate takes place at the Majestic Hotel. Sarkin stands on a... (full context)
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...the military, but to his own integrity. With this, Berlin falls silent. Neither he nor Sarkin says anything more—they haven’t convinced each other of anything. The narrator concludes, “imagine it.” (full context)
Chapter 46
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...and Doc talk, it becomes clear that Doc is talking about Lieutenant Corson. He and Sarkin have left Paris, taking with them everything in the apartment were Berlin and Sarkin were... (full context)