This book was recommended to me by Kris. He had read it, and recommended it as a war tale for our generation. He nailed it with his recommendation.
The book follows several lives of the soldiers during and after a tour in Iraq. Following along the different story paths is difficult at first, as the plot moves from present day to the past, from one character to the next. Once we learn who the characters, and begin to understand how they know each other and how their stories merge and separate, the pace picks up. We learn the social dynamics among the soldiers. We learn the defining events that shaped their opinions of each other, both among the soldiers and between the soldiers and their leadership. We eventually learn of the secrets known and not discussed.
How accurate is the story to real life? How can a story express the boredom of between explosions, the underlying non-stop anxiety, the oppressive heat, or the immediate terror of an attack? I don't know that it can fully do so. This book, however, gives hints of those lives in a visceral way.
There is always loss in war. The strength of an author comes from how much you feel that loss in a tale of war. This one has that gut punch.
Worth reading, and recommended.
“Leaders must have a strong sense of the great responsibility of their office,” I continue. “Because the resources they will expend in war are human lives.”
If the secret police do come, what better place to hide than in the crowd?
Lieutenant Donovan and Sergeant Gomez pretty much got it handled over at the platoon. Not much need of me.” All that explanation, all those excuses, and we had only just met.
The whole company, all those Americans, were tucked right up against the edge of the plateau. I wondered if they knew that everyone down by the river could see them, clearly, moving around up there.
“The dangers out there are sort of like the ocean.” He chuckled. “You’d never swim if you knew how many sharks there really were.”
Marceau had a genuinely charming emotional blind spot. Perception didn’t much matter to him. He cared only for reality. As long as he knew he was doing his job, and keeping his friends safe, he was immune to peer pressure. Free to be a Marine without having to act like one. Free to make light of our national follies and remind us all that in the scope of wars that had come before, our war was silly. Worth a laugh or two.
“My father and brother hated my rock music, and my friends,” he told me, “they always threatened to inform the state morality police of our performances.”
I find an empty corner in the back of the bar and wedge myself into it, almost without thinking. I can see the whole club from this spot. No one can sneak up behind me.
It may not be the usual thing, what they’re doing up there, but the metalheads start moving around a little bit. Like bubbles stuck to the bottom of a pot just before the water boils.
Marceau said, looking down from his turret. “Really?” I asked. “Yeah. The gray water around here, the kind they pull from the river and have us shower in? It’s alkaline. Put water from the shower tanks on that grass and it’ll shrivel up.”
Still, I do not blame this pretty girl for her disgust in me. I have disappointed many others before you, I think to myself.
My father wanted me to study English, yes. But only so I could go abroad for secondary school. My father still hoped, even after the first war, so I still learned.
It’s why I drink alone, mostly. I don’t have the discipline to drink around people and answer their simple questions without saying something awful.
“We lack good people. And without good people, we won’t have a good country.”
“Because when you have friends, you have people.” “Sure. But that’s a good thing, right?” Dodge shook his head. “You misunderstand. People have enemies. Other people. People with a reason to cut off your head. All it takes is the one friend. Like you. If I am your friend, then all Americans are my people, and everyone else is my enemy. If I have friendship with a Kurd, then the Kurds are my people and I must fight the Sunni and the Shia.” He waved the back of his hand at the river. “You cannot have friends, here. You cannot have people.” Then he added with a sigh, “Only family.”
Professor Al-Rawi laughed. “In the end, Huck must learn two very important lessons. First, that civilization is an illusion. Second, that the only authority is one’s conscience.”
I remembered all the times my father took me to see the canal as a boy, and how he watched the construction work with such satisfaction. Honest work, unlike politics.
But outside the knuckleheads have already started in with their fireworks. The noise of it boils up from everywhere. Cracks and whistles in flurries all across the neighborhood. Black Cats and bottle rockets cooking off in bursts.
Her eyes get round and she waves me over to the window to see. Her smile. It’s different than normal. She can’t control it.
Before the first protest, they wanted only an excuse to party. But when the police showed them death, they did not run and quit as I had expected. They grew committed.
“No. No, you see, the thing to do is stay. Let these things happen as God wills and try to survive the bullets when they come. Let some Americans die if they must, let them kill your brother and his people if they can, and we live until tomorrow, Kateb.”
My flatmates labor under the misconception that fighting together necessarily makes men friends.
“I am weak. And that is all. But I am not without a home. To be weak? To be scared and frail? This is to have a home. These people behind me are all very weak and all very scared. We are so easy to kill. President Ben Ali has made certain that we are all reminded of this. But to die here? Outside where it is cold? This would be to die at home. And few people are so lucky as to die at home.”