The Recipient’s Son is many things. It is a sensitive novel about a young man’s coming of age. It is a revealing novel about life in the somewhat closed educational institutions of the armed forces – in this case, the US Naval Academy. For readers who are outsiders relative to these institutions – like me – it provides what seem to be authentic and realistic glimpses of a strange world where honor and discipline are in focus, but where power, politics, individual aspirations and inability to understand threatens to undermine and destroy a fragile system, based on notions of justice quite alien to the outside world.
In The Recipient’s Son Stephen Phillips tells a story of a young man without parents who struggles with the legacy of his father: For a long time all Donald Durango knew was that his father was killed in Vietnam. Then he learned, more or less by accident, that his father was a war hero, that he had received a Medal of Honor posthumously.
Because of the medal, Durago was able to get into the Naval Academy. He wanted that. But he didn’t really know why he wanted it. He struggled with his motivation and for a long time performed badly. Then something happened that made him understand his legacy and assisted by friends and mentors – a feared master chief, a roommate, his girlfriend – he decides to try to stretch toward loftier goals. Gradually he finds the confidence to pursue a military career.
But just as things start shaping up, Donald Durango will meet his greatest challenge, one that will make him or break him. A superior officer who sees a wonderful new opportunity to promote his own career sets in motion a process that has the potential to take all Durango has struggled so hard to achieve.
The Recipient’s Son is a very interesting and well-told tale of a young man lacking identity and full of self-doubts coming to grips with his past and present and accepting the challenge of serving his country. The novel is subtitled «A Novel of Honor», a very apt title: It is a book to enjoy and a book to learn about honor from.