Sometimes all you can do is just eat the cherry cobbler – “Redeployment” by Phil Klay

August 30, 2015 at 9:21 am 3 comments

This collection of short stories is bitterly heartbreaking, comical, insightful, and some of the stories are simply amazing.  Phil Klay served in Iraq for 13 months as a Public Affairs Officer and his writing is beautiful.  Don’t get me wrong here, it is rough, harsh, and descriptive in a way that makes you wince, but it is beautiful.  Not to grandstand, but this is a book that everyone, particularly Americans, should read.

The stories begin with a marine returning home to his wife after a tour in Iraqi.  His long anticipated return is awkward and not exactly what he had been looking forward to:

“Getting back feels like your first breath after nearly drowning. Even if it hurts, it’s good.”

They had been thumbs_military_policemen_on_security_patrol_outside_tq_-_shooting dogs in Iraq for sport and the soldier returns to his beloved dog who is old and sick.  It is awful to think of shooting dogs, so this book was a rough start for me, but there is an important point Klay is making.  This is who the soldier becomes. The man, who has a dog that he loves and misses and cares for at home, can put that piece of himself or herself away and think of dogs as target practice.

And the stories take you through all these pieces of being a soldier – the mundane day to day tours, the house raids, the mind-numbing administrative positions, the frustratingly stupid foreign politics, etc.  Klay doesn’t miss the ridiculous either, the all Iraq needs is baseball or widow beekeepers to recover moments are in there and they are head-shakingly funny.   But most compelling for me is how we place these people in extraordinary situations, with guns and death and nightmares in the making, and then we expect them to be able to handle the “normal.”   Once you go through this experience a simple trip to the mall with crowds of people takes on a whole different meaning of awareness.

The story that really seemed to the best example of that expectation of normal  was early on in the book. After a raid on a Iraqi home, after cleaning off the blood of Iraqis and fellow soldiers, the men sit down in the mess hall to dinner with their choice of any kind of cobbler.  For one young kid this was the first time he had killed anyone and he just sits there staring.  The other guys get him cherry cobbler, it is supposed to be the best, and hand him a spoon.

It is the best illustration that there are these moments in life where all you can do is keep going, even if that means you are just committing to do a small everyday thing.  Because really, if you think about it, we were told we were fighting this war to hold onto the small everyday things that make our lives meaningful.  Even things as simple as cobbler.

“Maybe you didn’t understand American foreign policy or why we were at war. Maybe you never will. But it doesn’t matter. You held up your hand and said, “I’m willing to die for these worthless civilians.” 

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Entry filed under: August 2015 reads, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. sheridegrom - From the literary and legislative trenches.  |  September 25, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    This is one of the most powerful and compelling reviews I’ve read in months [and I read a lot of reviews]. Your review makes me want to throw my robe on the floor, get dressed and rush to my nearest book store to get a copy. Otherwise, I’m ordering it yet today. I’ve been researching ‘Moral Injury’ our troops face and although the VA doesn’t consider it a psychological injury for compensation, I see much of it in what you write – right down to the cherry cobbler. Did I say, terrific review!

    Reply
    • 2. Emily C  |  September 29, 2015 at 8:35 pm

      Oh wow! Thank you for the high praise. Moral injury is an interesting phrase that I have never heard before. I need to look into and I think if you have been doing that research you will find this book compelling. And again, your compliments are so kind – thank you.

      Reply

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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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