Tag Archives: Iraq

*** Soldier Girls by Helen Thorpe


There’s much that is awkward and boring in Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War. Awkward prose, at times, and also the awkward peeking into the very private lives of real women and their families. Boring minutiae of ordinary people’s lives, boring details of who did what to whom, both at war and at home. But I found the book absorbing, as it follows three women who joined the National Guard to get money to go to college, or just get a stable income — and never imagined they would be deployed (and deployed again) to Afghanistan and Iraq. Their jobs are almost mundane, if rehabbing AK -47s can be called mundane. There is no hand-to-hand combat, no heroics, although, as one of the woman finds out, a truck driver can encounter plenty of dangers and death itself.

What I found most interesting is how these three women, with little education and poor job opportunities, blossom in the military, taking on leadership roles, both officially and not, and making serious efforts to better understand the local population. In contrast when they go back home they are swallowed up in the deep problems of their families and making a living, and they seem to struggle much more.  It’s also sobering to see how little is done to help the transition back to civilian life…

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** The Apartment by Greg Baxter


In The Apartment, the hero and narrator searches for an apartment in a cold, snowy, unnamed Eastern European city, accompanied by a young woman. It’s a stream of consciousness story where he relives bits of his upbringing and his tour of duty in Iraq, without ever confiding in his new friend but flashing enough money around that it’s clear something not quite copasetic happened.

He does get the apartment but the rambling narrative gets old about mid-way through.

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** Un-remarried Widow by Artis Henderson


Unremarried Widow is the affecting memoir of an army wife whose husband was killed in a helicopter accident in Iraq — therefore becoming, in the Army’s surprisingly precise bureaucratese jargon, the un-remarried widow of the title (or URW, since acronyms seem more beloved, perhaps, than bureaucratese). Her story is rather trite, if terribly sad, but she writes luminously about both her love for her conservative, religious husband, so different from her, and her grief. But I much preferred, in the same theme, You Know When the Men are Gone, stories about the women in Fort Hood whose husbands are on deployment.

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** The Long Walk by Brian Castner

The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows is the story of the author, a trained ordnance disposal specialist who went to Iraq, twice, to dismantle roadside bombs and came back with post-traumatic stress disorder. The story is grisly, with body parts galore (and worse) and dead friends, and the PTSD symptoms are chilling. After the struggle, it’s hard to believe that he seems to have (finally) found the right meds and yoga, not to mention his ever-patient wife, to bring him some peace.

I have preferred other books about the personal toll of war (here and here for instance) but this depiction of PTSD is striking, as is the need for good psychological help,

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** Shade it Black by Jess Goodell

With its awkward structure and bifurcated focus, Shade it Black is far from perfect — but I found it very interesting nevertheless. It is a memoir by a woman, newly graduated from high school, who enlists as her Marine and finds herself gathering and processing the remains of the dead in Iraq.  It’s a rough task, as we can only imagine, and the author’s plain telling of the story makes it starker yet. Sure made me think that if we had drafted our daughters and sons to go to Iraq the war may not have lasted so long…

Perhaps not surprisingly, re-entry into civilian life is tough after an experience like that, and although it’s hard to believe that a tough Marine would allow herself to become a battered wife, that’s exactly what happens to her, at least for a while. The psychhological follow-up for veterans seems rather sketchy.

The author also tries to fit in descriptions of how hard it is to be a female Marine, and that doesn’t work so well, even if the stories are rather chilling. Should have stuck to the main theme, I think.

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*** You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

This one is going straight to the “Books of the Month” list. You Know When the Men Are Gone is a series of interlocking stories about the wives of soldiers from Fort Hood that are deployed to Iraq. The stories are more about families and marriages than about the war, although the war is the ugly beast that pushes people to their limits. There’s the jealous husband who spends his leave breaking into his own house to find out whether his wife is faithful to him and the wife who breaks into her husband’s email account to find alluring messages from another woman. There are the men who come back and can’t quite cope with normal lives, the ones who come back injured and get dumped, the ones who do not come back at all. One of the big themes in the book is how the wives, thrown together almost randomly while their husbands are gone, both chafe at the enforced togetherness and also create emotional bonds with each other.

Two nits. How about the husbands? There are many more men than women fighting, but must the women-fighters be portrayed only as home wreckers? And next time, how about a full-length novel rather than  linked stories? I really wanted to know what happens after the end of each story!

Read this book, you will love it, sad bits and all. Another way to see the personal side of the Iraq war.

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The Lonely Soldier by Helen Benedict

The Lonely Soldier tells the stories of five women who fought in Iraq, a topic that could be very interesting. But right from the start the author hammers out statistics that are had to believe, such as 90% of female veterans were sexually harassed during their service, half the women recruited in the army have been sexually abused as children, or an eye-popping 70% of potential male recruits are too fat, too gay, or too delinquent to qualify to join. The book goes on to rant against the Iraq war, the silly bureaucracy within the armed forces, the unfair privileges of military contractors (repeatedly!), so much so as to obscure the (horrific) life stories of the five women along with any sense of a balanced coverage of facts. And with the bath water goes the baby. If women are so vulnerable to heavy weapon loads, harsh living conditions, and the uncontrollable urges of their fellow soldiers, are we not building a rationale for why they should not be able to choose to be soldiers?

There are many other good books about the soldiers in Iraq (for instance Joker One and Final Salute). Too bad we can’t get a good one about the women soldiers.

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