Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Book Review: "Redeployment" by Phil Klay

I've been tremendously fortunate to never have had to go to war. I've always been awed by the sacrifices made by the men and women in our armed forces, and truly admire both their physical strength and their mental toughness, which has allowed them to battle actual and psychological challenges.

Thanks to a number of war-themed movies, we've gotten some idea (albeit dramatized ones) of what soldiers went through during wartime and after the battles have ended, and how they coped with injuries and trauma. Add Phil Klay's powerful story collection, Redeployment, to this mix. It's a collection that packs a real punch, and Klay, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq, doesn't shy away from brutal honesty, using images and plots that at times may make you uncomfortable, but which truly sear your mind.

Some of my favorite stories included: "Prayer in the Furnace," in which a chaplain finds his abilities and his faith tested by the actions of a zealous Colonel and the effects his zeal had on those in his platoon; "Psychological Operations," which follows the struggles of a former PsyOps Marine desperate for the approval of his father, and a Muslim classmate; "Money as a Weapons System," which humorously looks at the bureaucracy of war, as a Foreign Service Officer ready to make a difference is encouraged to teach young Iraqi children to play baseball; "War Stories," which powerfully illustrates the aftereffects of major injuries on both the injured soldier and one of his best friends, also a veteran; "Unless It's A Sucking Chest Wound," where a Marine-turned-law school graduate deals with a struggling friend still in the service, and the ghosts of those left behind; and the title story, which is a gut punch, following a soldier upon his immediate return to Fallujah, forced into the idea of taking another life.

Klay is a talented writer whose language absolutely dazzles, and the emotion in his stories really resonated. At times when he described gunfire and other action, you actually felt as if you were in the midst of it. His characters are funny, poignant, and all too human. My only criticism of the collection is that Klay uses so many acronyms that soldiers would know, but the average reader probably doesn't, so while I had an idea of what he was trying to say, I couldn't quite grasp certain things. (One story used so many acronyms I could only understand the bare bones of the plot.)

I look forward to seeing if Phil Klay continues writing, because his voice is a powerful one, and his talent deserves to be read.

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