Tag Archives: war

What Comes After the Trauma of Fleeing: ‘The Refugees’ by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Refugees (224 pages; Grove), the new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen, consists of eight stories circling around the displacement caused by the Vietnam War. Though reviewers of the collection have tied the narratives of these stories to some kind of universal “immigrant experience,” the title of the book, as well as the historical context of the stories, refuses this oversimplified categorization. The Refugees gently but firmly reminds the reader of the difference, which lies largely in the ways one group has had some kind of choice in leaving their place of origin, while the other has …Continue reading

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Deceptions of an Iraq War Memoir: ‘A Big Enough Lie’ by Eric Bennett

Eric Bennett’s first novel, A Big Enough Lie (285 pages; TriQuarterly Books), is fiction within fiction. The novel opens with best-selling author John Townley sitting in a studio green room, waiting to discuss his war memoir, Petting the Burning Dog, for the second time on the Winnie Wilson Show. There’s just one problem. The memoir is a fabrication, written under the name Henry Fleming, who happens to be a real second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Fleming is missing in action in Iraq and was the leader of the “Babylon Seven”—a platoon captured and executed on video. Townley suspects his second …Continue reading

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A Crime of Dispassion: ‘The Sympathizer’ by Viet Thanh Nguyen

In schools throughout the country, American children and teenagers tend to learn about the Vietman War—and by extension, the country of Vietnam—through the prism of U.S. culture. This is not merely to reaffirm that entrenched ideas and predilections form our understanding of historical events, but also that early conversations about the war often gravitate away from Vietnam-as-place-and-people, and toward what Vietnam-as-idea sparked in the American consciousness. Student-led protests, the creation of the most talked-about countercultural movement in our history, the unthinkable fallibility of the American military—even Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles are all likely to be mentioned before Ho Chi …Continue reading

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The Absurdity of War, the Absurdity of the Media: Robert Perisic’s ‘Our Man in Iraq’

Originally published in Croatia in 2007, Our Man In Iraq (Black Balloon; 202 pages), Robert Perisic’s finely crafted and witty novel, is now the first of his books to be translated into English (with translator Will Firth). American readers should delight in discovering Perisic’s work, while lamenting this inexplicable delay. The novel opens in 2003. Toni has patched together a promising life: the Economics editor for PEG, an independent local newspaper, he lives in Zagreb with his beautiful girlfriend, Sanja, an actress who has just landed her first major stage role. Marriage seems to be on the horizon, and perhaps …Continue reading

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Brother’s Keeper: T. Geronimo Johnson’s ‘Hold It ‘Til It Hurts’

Upon bringing home his newly adopted son, who is black, to his other son, Achilles (also adopted, also black), the white father in T. Geronimo Johnson’s Hold It ‘Til It Hurts (Coffee House Press, 342 pages) announces, “Don’t need blood to be brothers.” Johnson’s violent first novel, though, effectively proves the opposite, but in a different sense: tearing through Afghanistan and Hurricane Katrina, the morgues of Atlanta and the stilted subdivisions of Maryland, Achilles Conroy finds familial love in the most harrowing situations. If Achilles’s younger brother, Troy, is “fearless and light, like a rock that floats,” Achilles is an …Continue reading

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An Iraq Vet and the Weight of War: Kevin Powers’s ‘The Yellow Birds’

Those of us who have not experienced the pains of war can never claim to understand them, but Kevin Powers’s first novel, The Yellow Birds (Little, Brown; 240 pages), gives its readers a poignant glimpse. Powers, a poet and a veteran, takes us in medias res to Al Tafar, Iraq, and into the life of then-twenty-one-year-old Private John Bartle. Matching the novel’s form with its chaotic content, Powers takes us in and out of scenes from Bartle’s life between 2004 and 2009, spanning the before, during, and after of this one soldier’s war experience. Powers’s weaving of these moments masterfully …Continue reading

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A River of Words to Capture the Nastiness of War: ‘The Land at the End of the World’

If you like your narrators drunk, shell-shocked, adrift, and stricken with logorrhea, please read on. Following in the tradition of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Knut Hamsun’s Hunger, Antonio Lobo Antunes’s The Land at the End of the World (Norton; 224 pages) is a book of anguished testimony. (Open Letter publisher Chad Post accurately grouped the author with Thomas Bernhard and Louis-Ferdinand Celine as an “author of complaint.”) Based on Lobo Antunes’s experiences as a medic in the Portuguese military, which, from 1961 to 1974, engaged in a failed pacification campaign in its African colonies, The Land …Continue reading

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