Tree of Smoke
Tree of Smoke is a 2007 novel by American author Denis Johnson which won the National Book Award for Fiction and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. It is about a man named Skip Sands who joins the CIA in 1965, and begins working in Vietnam during the American involvement there. The time frame of the novel is from 1963 to 1970, with a coda set in 1983. One of the protagonists of Tree of Smoke is Bill Houston, who was the main character in Johnson's 1983 debut novel Angels.
Johnson's novel revolves around the associations and interactions with Francis X. Sands, a retired air force colonel and war hero, now a CIA official in Southeast Asia. The story is told primarily from the point of view of his nephew, William "Skip" Sands; Infantry Private James Houston and his brother Bill; and Kathy Jones, a Canadian NGO worker. The plot also includes minor but important characters Major Eddie Algonado, a Filipino fighter pilot; Nguyen Hao and his nephew Minh who work for Colonel Sands; Trung Than, Nguyen Hao's Vietcong friend turned double agent; Sargent Jimmy Storm, a henchman of the Colonel; and a German assassin named Dietrich Fest.
Colonel Francis X. Sands 
Retired Air Force colonel and war hero. Uncle of Skip Sands and head of Psy Ops for the CIA in Southeast Asia.
William Skip Sands 
CIA officer in Philippines and Vietnam who works under his uncle's tutelage.
Kathy Jones 
Canadian NGO worker in the Philippines and Vietnam.
James Huston 
Army private in Vietnam. Although not technically under the command of Colonel Sands, he is a member of Echo Reconnaissance of Delta company which is under the direction of Psy Ops.
Bill Huston 
Brother of James Huston who initially serves in the Navy.
Youngest brother of James and Bill Huston
Sergeant Jimmy Storm 
Operative for Colonel Sands in Psy Ops.
Nguyen Hao 
Vietnamese business man serving as driver and operative for Colonel Sands.
Nephew of Nguyen and helicopter pilot in the Vietnamese air force but works more directly for Colonel Sands.
Kim Hao 
Wife of Nguyen Hao.
Brother of Nguyen who kills himself by self immolation.
Trung Than 
Childhood friend of Nguyen Hao who is a member of the Vietcong but with the help of Nguyen agrees to become a double agent.
Sergeant Harmon 
Commander of James Huston in Cao Phuc who is badly wounded in a firefight.
Dietrich Fest 
German assassin who kills Father Carignan and later attempts to kill Trung Than.
Father Carignan 
Priest in Manilla who is assassinated for allegedly running guns for the communists.
Reviews of the book have been mostly favorable. Tree of Smoke was swiftly cited as one of the Best Books of 2007 by The New York Times, whose reviewer, Jim Lewis, called the book "a massive thing and something like a masterpiece". Time magazine's Lev Grossman named it one of the Top 10 Fiction Books of 2007, ranking it at #5. Grossman praised the book as "the most ambitious novel of the year, and one of the greatest."
- "National Book Awards – 2007". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-27.
(With interview, acceptance speech by Johnson, essay by Matthew Pitt from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog, and other material linked to Johnson's name.)
- Thompson, Bob (2007-11-15). Johnson's 'Tree of Smoke' Wins National Book Award. Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-11-15.
- "Fiction". Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-03-27.
- New York Times Sept. 2, 2007
- Grossman, Lev; "The 10 Best Fiction Books"; Time magazine; December 24, 2007; Pages 44–45.
- Grossman, Lev; Top 10 Fiction Books; time.com