A profound tale of perseverance and family.

Vietnam veteran’s return to the United States sees him facing anti-war protesters and menacing mobsters in this novel.

By 1970, Augustino “Augie” Cumpton has finished his tour of Vietnam. Though it’s a decade before PTSD becomes an official medical condition, Augie is unquestionably afflicted. Some of it stems from guilt, as he watched friends die in battle, including a fellow soldier who sacrificed his own life for Augie’s. Augie enrolls in graduate school in his home state of West Virginia not long after the Kent State shootings. Upon learning he’s a vet, students and faculty berate him, one even calling him a “baby killer.” After leaving the university, Augie initially fares better working the night shift at the Chestnut Bakery, the family-run business his grandfather started over 50 years ago. But when a member of the mob organization The Black Hand threatens and later beats Uncle Giorgio, Augie responds by knocking out the thug. Uncle Sal tells Augie to lay low and hopes to avoid The Black Hand’s retaliation. The group subsequently demands that Augie’s family turn him over, which Sal resists, looking for a way to save his nephew before dangerous mobsters track down the vet. Brown’s character-driven sequel boasts a consistent pace, occasionally spotlighting Augie’s family and friends. Periodic lighter moments lessen the generally grim tone, as when Augie sits in on a game of pinochle with his charming but foulmouthed aunts and a family friend. Nevertheless, the book’s strongest scenes involve his Vietnam experience, particularly as Augie visits the relatives of his lost comrades. The final act turns darker and more violent. Not only are Augie’s flashbacks and nightmares a never-ending struggle, but those hurt—or killed—by mobsters looking for him compound his already hefty guilt. While the ending satisfies, there’s room for another installment or, perhaps, a spinoff.

A profound tale of perseverance and family. (acknowledgements, recipes, author bio)

WV Book Team: Brown's latest novel continues soldier's story

John H. Brown is a familiar figure to many West Virginians. He’s the founder of Brown Communications, a Charleston public relations firm now headed by his son Bryan, and he’s been a wine and food columnist for more than 30 years, writing for the Gazette-Mail and other publications.

In 2018, Brown embarked on a different kind of writing when he published a slim paperback novel, “Augie’s War,” inspired by his own war-time experiences in Vietnam.

Like Joseph Heller in “Catch-22,” the classic novel about the deadly World War II air war, Brown penned a novel that made clear the insanity of war in all its grim and gritty horror. Young Augustino “Augie” Cumpton, born into a big Italian-American family in West Virginia, is lucky to escape with his life when the Viet Cong attack his base. Many of his buddies aren’t as fortunate.

 

Now, Brown has published “Augie’s World.” A follow-up to his first novel, it details the ex-servicemen’s experiences when he returns home in 1970.

Augie is, of course, thrilled to be reunited with his family and friends. He takes special delight in being able to again enjoy the tasty Italian dishes he grew up eating. (If you like to cook, you might want to turn to the back of Brown’s book and check out the real recipes from the author’s family, which he attributes to the novel’s fictional family.)

But Augie’s return home is far from idyllic. He may have returned from Vietnam physically unscathed, but like many returning Vietnam vets, he’s been emotionally and psychologically traumatized by his battlefield experiences. Almost nightly he’s visited by the worst sort of nightmares, which wake him up screaming. And like many other troubled vets, he turns to alcohol and drugs for the temporary comfort they provide.

Today, we would say Augie is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, but in the 1970s the problem was still called “shell shock” or “battle fatigue.”

 

Augie’s maternal grandfather, Salvatore Emilio Costanza, worked hard in the coal mines, saved every penny he could and used that savings to open a little business, the Chestnut Baking Company. Almost everyone in the family, including Augie, has worked at the bakery at one time or another.

Memories of the bakery and its daily parade of colorful customers provided Augie with happy memories he could retreat into as a way of hanging on to his sanity in war-torn Vietnam.

About a third of the way into “Augie’s World,” the novel takes a dark turn. Now that he’s back home, Augie has resumed work at the bakery. Then something happens there that presents a new and perilous problem for he and his family.

Unbeknownst to Augie, the mafia has been demanding protection money from his two uncles who run the bakery. The two have refused to pay. Unwilling to take no for an answer, a mobster shows up at the bakery and begins roughing up one of the uncles.

Augie grabs a big wooden paddle used to take the hot bread out of the oven and delivers two hard licks to the mobster’s head, knocking him unconscious. The mobster is in a coma for days and then dies. Bent on extracting revenge, the furious mobsters demand the family turn Augie over to them. And for good measure, they kidnap Augie’s girlfriend. Holding her hostage, they threaten to “rearrange her pretty face” unless they get Augie.

How Augie’s family goes about outwitting the bad guys, successfully rescuing both Augie and his girlfriend, would make a great Hollywood movie and provides an ingenious, if implausible, end to an entertaining novel.

“Augie’s World” (Black Rose Writing, $18.95) is available wherever books are sold or from Amazon.com.

Sample Reader Reviews

Not just another Vietnam War tome

Wow! First Augie's War, followed on by this one, Augie's World. Another riveting read by John H. Brown! The Vietnam War touched every one of my generation in some fashion or another but most didn't speak of it. Whether it was the anticipation of being drafted or the public reaction to the war itself, everyone had an opinion, but not everyone chose to share. This wonderful reflection not only gave voice to the unspoken, but wove Italian ethnicity in and around and through each chapter. Keep snacks nearby because there are some mouthwatering scenes that eating along is a must to keep from drooling on the page. Thank goodness there are some recipes included at the end. C'mon, John, when's the next book coming to us?!

Augie Cumpston-A story of love, survival, friendship and food

I enjoyed Brown's first book, but his second one, Augie's World really hit the mark with me. What is most interesting are his descriptions of growing up in an Itallian-American enclave in West Virginia. Very funny, very ....heartwarming, I would say. Many colorful characters share the stage with Augie...s omething the author pulled off very well. The story is drawn from his own life experiences. Humor, mystery, and a gripping plot really had me transfixed. Oh, and the Italian recipes at the end of the book are cool. My wife already made two of them and results were really great.

Life and mafia problems in an Italian family after Vietnam

Augie's World is a real life depiction of growing up in a close Italian family during a time when everyone had a nickname and the Mafia was active. The food and the family interactions with the characters are all real life and well intertwined in the story plot. The characters are one of my favorite parts of the book. You also will be entertained. Augie's PTSD is a result of his Vietnam experience as depicted in Augie's War.

His loyalty to his family and their protection and love for him ties the story together. There is love, romance and all you want in a good fiction novel...a page turner and must read. Plus the Italian recipes are authentic. Loved this book and waiting for #3.

Augie’s World Is A Compelling Drama

Wow, John Brown’s second novel, “Augie’s World”, a sequel to “Augie’s War” reads like a Michael Connelly novel! His yarn keeps the reader glued as Augie winds his way through West Virginia’s Canaan Valley and into underworld denizens in nearby Pittsburgh. His journey endangers those he loves and introduces us to a Damon Runyon cast of characters who take umbrage that Augie’s life is demanded as payment to protect his family. Not just drama that keeps one engaged—plenty of humor, a good deal of amour, and a hefty serving of Italian love of food and wine. Enjoyed it immensely!

A Very Good Read

I enjoyed Brown's first book, but his second one, Augie's World really hit the mark with me. What is most interesting are his descriptions of growing up in an Itallian-American enclave in West Virginia. Very funny, very ....heartwarming, I would say. Many colorful characters share the stage with Augie...s omething the author pulled off very well. The story is drawn from his own life experiences. Humor, mystery, and a gripping plot really had me transfixed. Oh, and the Italian recipes at the end of the book are cool. My wife already made two of them and results were really great.