About two and a half years ago, I picked up the novel that defined Vietnam, "The Things They Carried", and it ended up being one of my favorite reads that year. The book was powerful, visceral, and traveled into the dark recesses of a soldier's soul. I will never know what it was like to fight in that war and return home, but this book gets you in the neighborhood. It left me feeling humbled, and in awe of these young men who fought for our country.
In many reviews, this book has been compared to "The Things They Carried", except that it addressed the issues experienced in Iraq. I feel like I have spent most of my adult life knowing we have our troops over there, so I felt like it was my duty to read this.
Synopsis: 21 year-old Private John Bartle has recently signed on for his first tour of duty in Iraq, much to his mother's distress. He meets 18 year-old Private Murphy in basic training, bonds with the young man, and impulsively promises Murphy's mother that he will bring her boy safely back home. The two men go on to experience everything Iraq has to offer...the heat, the exhaustion, the bloodshed, the shocking surprise attacks and violent death all around them. Slowly Murphy becomes unhinged, and Bartle wonders how he will ever make good on the promise that he made.
Once Bartle returns home, another battle must be fought...the fight to rejoin the human race and suppress the demons in his head and heart. Unfortunately those demons come in many forms, and they not be done with him yet.
My thoughts: Let me start with some easy observations that I made. The writing is phenomenal. The author is a veteran so he brings with him all the gritty experience that makes this novel feel so real, complete with a naive bravado of a young man trying to do his manly duty. But the prose is also very poetic as well. It is mesmerizing almost.
Beyond that however, I wander in murky territory. First just let me say that I KNOW what these soldiers are facing over there and what they are facing once they return. I've talked to enough people, seen enough interviews or movies, read enough articles to know. I do not have blinders on. Still. I felt nauseated for most of this audio book. Maybe it is because I have a son? Who is the type of kid who might just decide to up and join the Marines or Army? The mess that these boys, barely adults, were wandering into made me ill. The confusion, the violence, the corruption, the mental stress and anguish...this is not something I would wish on any mother's son. The book made me angry and scared and sick. I suppose that was the intent, but it was not enjoyable. The whole thing kind of put me into a funk for a day or two. Just be warned.
So while I would definitely re-read "The Things They Carried", I'm not sure I could say the same for this one. It is hard for me to pinpoint WHY...I've thought about it for some time. There is just a different feel here in this one. More in-your-face, more personal, and much darker.
A few words about the audio production: Our narrator was Holfer Graham, a new voice for me, but one I will probably run across again based on his wide array of audio books. He was a good choice for this novel because he has that war-torn, jagged feel to his voice that conveys an emotion that you would expect from a soldier.
Audio book length: 5 hours and 23 minutes (240 pages)
4 out of 5 stars