Recommended Reading: Redeployment, by Phil Klay

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“Somebody said combat is 99 percent sheer boredom and 1 percent sheer terror. They weren’t an MP in Iraq. On the roads I was scared all the time. Maybe not pure terror. That’s for when the IED actually goes off. But a kind of low-grade terror that mixes with the boredom.”

–“After Action Report” in Redeployment* (42)

Chances are that you’ve heard about Redeployment, Phil Klay’s collection of short stories that recently won the National Book Award; it’s the best known of the books (fiction, that is) that are coming out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and after I read it, I decided that I should read more of them.

On his website, Phil Klay writes, “It’s not that there’s one thing I want people to understand about this war so much as I want people engaged with it. If you’re an American citizen, it’s your war. It’s not the soldier’s war, or the Marine’s war. The soldier and the Marine do not issue themselves orders.” (It’s a point he also made on the penultimate episode of The Colbert Report; you can watch the clip here.)

Though I’ve met veterans of the wars, I do not know any of them well enough to ask about their experiences; writing —fiction, nonfiction, journalism— is the most accessible way for me to approach the wars, and maybe it is for you too. I haven’t done enough to understand veterans’ experiences, but reading Redeployment was a small step in the right direction.

The twelve narrators in the meticulously-researched Redeployment include a chaplain, a Mortuary Affairs officer, an artillery specialist, and an infantryman who’s just returned home. None of the narrators stand in for Mr. Klay himself (he was a public affairs specialist in the Marines), but all are compelling, flawed, admirable in their own ways, and deeply changed by their time in Iraq. Their stories are unforgettable, often brutal, and impossible to put down.

The book doesn’t have a political agenda; it’s neither pro- nor anti-war, which is, I think, what makes it so powerful. As the narrator who’s a chaplain says, “nobody expects sainthood, and it’s offensive to demand it” (150). Mr. Klay has set out to show the stark realities of modern war and the gray places in human nature, all while giving civilians a glimpse of the desperate hardships endured by soldiers.

If you’ve read Redeployment and are looking for new fiction about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are several books coming out in 2015 that may pique your interest, like Elliot Ackerman’s Green on Blue,  Jesse Goolsby’s I’d Walk with My Friends If I Could Find Them, John Renehan’s The Valley, and Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite’s War of the Encyclopaedists, among others. I’ll definitely be reading at least one of these in the next few months.

Here are links to organizations that help soldiers and veterans and their families, which you might consider donating to:

Greater Cleveland Fisher House

Yellow Ribbon Fund

Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund

Books for Soldiers (h/t My Book Strings)

Wounded Warrior Project (h/t commenter Ripley)

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in a giveaway, which did not affect the content of my review.