Books I Love

Redeployment November 21 2014, 0 Comments

"In “Redeployment,” Phil Klay, a former Marine who served in Iraq, grapples with a different war but aims for a similar effect: showing us the myriad human manifestations that result from the collision of young, heavily armed Americans with a fractured and deeply foreign country that very few of them even remotely understand. Klay succeeds brilliantly, capturing on an intimate scale the ways in which the war in Iraq evoked a unique array of emotion, predicament and heartbreak. In Klay’s hands, Iraq comes across not merely as a theater of war but as a laboratory for the human condition in extremis. “Redeployment” is hilarious, biting, whipsawing and sad. It’s the best thing written so far on what the war did to people’s souls."
Dexter Filkins -- The New York Times Book Review

Deep down, I was secretly rooting for Emily St. John Mandel's "Station Eleven" but when the National Book Award for fiction was awarded to Phil Klay for "Redeployment", which I was almost done reading, I smiled with gratitude and approval.

When Phil Klay walked up on stage and started reading his notes for his acceptance speech, the myriad of emotions running across his face, which he painstakingly tried to subdue, held the audience captive from the first word to the last.

I cannot do justice to this collection of stories. They are the most brutally honest, unflinchingly raw and morally complex accounts of what the Irak and Afghanistan wars did to the minds and bodies of the most innocent, the most naive and the bravest of all of us: the soldiers and Marines who served and still serve over there. Whether or not you supported or understood these wars, you cannot not feel an extraordinary sense of empathy for these young men and women thrown into the pits of hell and expected to come out unscathed.

I will leave the last words to him, from his incredible essay "After War, a Failure of the Imagination", published in the New York Times earlier this year:

"It’s a powerful moment, when you discover a vocabulary exists for something you’d thought incommunicably unique. Personally, I felt it reading Joseph Conrad’s “Lord Jim.” I have friends who’ve found themselves described in everything from science fiction to detective novels. This self-recognition through others is not simply a by-product of art — it’s the whole point. Hegel once wrote, “The nature of humanity is to drive men to agreement with one another, and humanity’s existence lies only in the commonality of consciousness that has been brought about.”

To enter into that commonality of consciousness, though, veterans need an audience that is both receptive and critical. Believing war is beyond words is an abrogation of responsibility — it lets civilians off the hook from trying to understand, and veterans off the hook from needing to explain. You don’t honor someone by telling them, “I can never imagine what you’ve been through.” Instead, listen to their story and try to imagine being in it, no matter how hard or uncomfortable that feels. If the past 10 years have taught us anything, it’s that in the age of an all-volunteer military, it is far too easy for Americans to send soldiers on deployment after deployment without making a serious effort to imagine what that means. We can do better."

The essay can be read in its entirety here:
After War, A Failure of the Imagination

And then you can rush and get a copy of this superb collection of stories.