The soldiers have arrived in the city of Delhi, and come to the Hotel Phoenix. It is there, the narrator confides, that Lieutenant Corson falls in love.
O’Brien suggests that in this chapter, Corson will play a larger role, and perhaps regain some energy and hope.
At the Hotel Phoenix, Corson sees a woman wearing a blouse and blue jeans. To Corson’s surprise, the woman—an Indian—is thrilled to find Americans in the city. The woman introduces herself as Hamijolli Chand, or “Jolly” for short. That evening, the woman gets drinks with the soldiers. She explains that she studied at Johns Hopkins for two years, and knows American culture well. As Jolly talks, Berlin is reminded of his own mother, for reasons he can’t entirely explain. Jolly has a husband, who works in the hotel, and serves the men hamburgers—something very difficult to come by in India. Corson whispers to Doc Peret that Jolly is a “brave, remarkable woman.”
Jolly is one of the most unlikely characters in the novel. She seems almost too perfect for the soldiers: all of her tastes and experiences seem tailor-made to endear her to Corson and the troops. This might suggest that she’s projecting an image to satisfy other people, however, much as the soldiers invent personas for themselves. It’s also surprising how quickly Corson comes to love Jolly—it’s as if, like Berlin, he’s so desperate for a friend that he’ll take anyone.
At the soldiers’ meal, Jolly Chand is cheerful. She asks Doc about medicine in the United States, and asks Stink about his family. Jolly is especially nice to Corson, who quickly becomes very drunk. Corson talks about his military service in Korea, and notes that in Korea, “everybody liked us,” while in “’Nam,” on the other hand, “Nobody likes nobody.” As Jolly and Corson talk, Jolly’s husband leaves the room and doesn’t return. Corson doesn’t notice this.
This is the first time in the novel that Vietnam is mentioned explicitly—an incredible thing, considering that this is essentially a book about the Vietnam War. But this also shows something important about the soldiers. Although they claim that the best way to cope with tragedy is to talk about it, when the soldiers are dealing with a truly unpleasant reality, they repress it and avoid speaking its name at all costs. Vietnam is the ultimate such unpleasant reality. It’s also telling that Jolly’s husband seems to support Jolly’s seduction of Corson, as if they’ve gone through similar situations before.
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 he starts to weep, saying, “What happened to her?”
Corson’s emotions seem perfectly real, and yet his motives for wanting to spend time with Jolly seem desperate—he misses his wife and wants feminine consolation.
The next morning, Corson and Jolly don’t come down for breakfast. Jolly’s husband serves tea to the hotel guests. The soldiers speculate that Corson has slept with Jolly, and say that Jolly is a “phony.” Berlin goes for a walk. He returns in the afternoon and notices Corson sitting with Jolly outside the hotel. Berlin thinks about “how young he is.”
It’s easy enough for the other soldiers to sense that Jolly is performing for them—her act is too perfect to be real. And yet the soldiers “perform” in precisely this way for each other: they give themselves fake names and backstories in order to distance themselves from their own sins and misdeeds in Vietnam.