on November 28, 2013
I am a soldier's daughter. Because my father served in World War II (Navy then), he did not speak of the war to me when he came home. It wasn't done.
But as I came through the Vietnam era in college and saw my students go off to wars in the Middle East as a teacher, I became more and more obsessed with understanding war.
REDEPLOYMENT by Phil Klay gives a variety of perspectives of war. Because he uses short stories and a number of narrators, Klay can move from returned vet at the height of his PTSD to bored Foreign Service Officer trying to put Iraqi kids into baseball uniforms because someone upstairs wants a PR picture. Never mind that the child rounded up may have been working on an IED the day before. The plight of the soldier, his amped up emotions and his training to be vigilant, to KILL or BE KILLED, overrides all other themes. Whether a man has endured burns all over his body or has been awarded a Medal of Valor, the wars of this century have marked a generation of men (and women, whom Klay acknowledges) as surely as WWI marked Wilfred Owens, the poet.
This is a bruising, snarling, hair-tearing blast of the breaths of death and war. Phil Klay, you speak of what you know.
Though mankind does not seem to learn from the history of war, voices like Klay's help to remind those safely watching the evening news that the soldiers are people's sons, daughters, husbands, wives and the "collateral damage" includes children and families with no interest in politics or global strategies. Klay's narrators give us the shifting tides of war with the constant of harm, ruin, and pain.
The various short stories in this collection tell the REAL cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and are more vivid than any war movie you might see on the screen. Through the eyes of one narrator, one feels the anxiety of a Marine sent out day after day on patrol, unknowing if the kids he sees on the street are just kids or are planting IEDs which could kill him. One feels the frustration of a Foreign Service Officer whose efforts to get a pipeline working is next to impossible due to the hatred between Sunnis and Shi'a. This same officer is told to use donated funds to provide baseball shirts to Iraqis even though they don't play baseball which shows that the US is the goose that lays the golden egg. A chaplain uses care packages from the US addressed "To Any Marine" to provide "cover" for those marines who are reluctant tot admit that they want to talk about concerns. The newspapers never talk about the use of drugs to help one sleep nor is there any mention of a "contact board" to show which platoon has the most engagements with the enemy. And, although the media convey much of the hardships veterans face when returning home, the story of a Marine who shot dogs who were eating corpses in Iraq and how his deployment affected him upon his return to civilian life, broke my heart. This is a book that should be read!!
on March 4, 2014
You won't find any sappy sentimentality or off-putting macho muscle flexing in Phil Klay's REDEPLOYMENT, a collection of twelve stories that all deal with combatants and veterans of the Iraq war. Nope. These stories are about as real and honest as anything you'll find being written these days about how the crucible of this war has affected the young men and women who were part of it, and, who have been irrevocably changed by it.
While there is not a false note to be found in any of these tales, the one that I found perhaps most affecting was "Prayer in the Furnace," told by a Catholic priest, a Marine Corps chaplain whose own faith is severely tested as he struggles to give aid to Marines severely traumatized physically, emotionally and spiritually by repeated combat tours. Men whose brains have been buffeted by blasts from IEDs and whose consciences are deadened and wracked by unspeakable atrocities witnessed - and committed - on a near-daily basis. The chaplain's role in a combat unit seems sadly marginalized, however, and although he turns for guidance to the writings of St John of the Cross and Augustine, in the end he feels frustrated, powerless and ashamed. (This story in particular I felt could be the basis for an equally powerful novel.)
There are also stories here of veterans trying to adjust, to assimilate back into civilian life; and struggling, feeling set apart, different. A former JAG officer who never saw combat, but did the paperwork, now a law student ready to enter a high-paying career, still feeling "more like a Marine out of the Corps than I'd felt while in it ... to everyone I met, I was 'the Marine.'" ("Unless It's a Sucking Chest Wound")
There is the very dark humor of combat vets, as displayed in "War Stories" in which the narrator jokes about hitting on girls in bars, and using his friend Jenks's awful disfigurement from burns sustained in an IED explosion, saying, "Who's gonna call bulls**t when you're sitting there in the corner looking all Nightmare on Elm Street?"
"Bodies" tells of a young Marine who works in Mortuary Affairs, a job which, of course, requires him to handle the mutilated bodies of both U.S. dead and enemy dead. But the title takes on an even more poignant meaning when he goes home on leave and seeks out his ex-girlfriend from high school. After dealing so much in death and dead bodies he needed desperately to feel the opposite. Convincing her of this, they lie quietly, their bodies spooned together.
"There was a warmth to her that flowed into me, and though she was tense at first, like she'd been earlier, she relaxed after a bit and it stopped feeling like I was grabbing her and more like we were fitting into each other. I relaxed too, all the sharp edges of my body lost in the feel of her. Her hips, her legs, her hair, the nape of her neck. Her hair smelled like citrus, and her neck smelled softly of sweat. I wanted to kiss her there because I knew I'd taste salt."
There is little or no eroticism in this scene. It is more a depiction of a simple yet urgent need for human warmth and contact - of an ineffable longing, of loneliness.
I could cite other examples of how each of these stories grabbed me, made me pay attention. Oddly, I am suddenly reminded of that desperate closing scene from DEATH OF A SALESMAN, in which Willy Loman's distraught widow cries out, "Attention must be paid!" Because these stories without question deserve our attention. In a country where the burden of military service is shouldered by a mere one percent of the population, these Marines and soldiers deserve not just our attention, but our utmost respect and gratitude.
REDEPLOYMENT is a damn good book. It will deservedly join the ranks of other fine fictional works coming out of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, books like THE YELLOW BIRDS, YOU KNOW WHEN THE MEN ARE GONE, and THE WATCH. Well done, Mr. Klay. Highly recommended.
- Tim Bazzett, author of the Cold War memoir, SOLDIER BOY: AT PLAY IN THE ASA
on December 23, 2013
Phil Klay's Redeployment is a collection of stories prompted by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Redeployment is also the title of the lead story, which was also the lead in an earlier collection rooted in the same conflicts and titled Fire and Forget. Redeployment the story is simply brilliant. The experience of coming home after seven months in combat is described in a way that enables the reader to almost accomplish the impossible: experience this awkwardly joyful process as the Marines actually experience it.
The story deftly avoids the maudlin tears-of-joy theme that would have been convenient and easy to exploit as Marines are reunited with their families and loved ones. Instead, Klay gives us a realistic mix of humor, jubilation, sadness, humiliation, desperation, and the vague but soon-to-pass discomfort that comes from being reunited with those closest to us who have become, for the short term, a bit unfamiliar. Things like kissing your wife or hugging your child are not quite as automatically easy and taken for granted as they were seven months before. In most instances, things will return quickly to normal, but for now even the once intimately familiar takes a little getting accustomed to.
When I reviewed Fire and Forget, I noted that the story Redeployment is one of very few works of fiction that, at special places, made me turn away, wince, and feel like crying. The way Klay melds military training with love for an old friend that has suffered long enough is mesmerizing. Cold steel, hot lead, a serene wooded area, and the instantaneous termination of pain perfectly define the end of a relationship characterized by real love. It's something you can't imagine until you've read it.
The other stories in Redeployment range in quality from very good to worth reading but not moving or inspirational. To a greater or lesser degree, however, the one thing they all have in common is an instructive nature that helps readers understand the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in ways that otherwise would never have occurred to us. The same informative detail applies to the individual soldiers and Marines who served in combat and sometimes worked in excruciatingly mundane support roles. After all, someone has to clean up the body parts and see that they are properly identified and sorted.
In some stories there seems to be a gratuitous over-use of acronyms that state-side civilians don't recognize and can't figure out. However, anyone who has been in the service knows that that's the way it is. I was in the army for nearly two years before I realized that "I Corps" (pronounced "eye corps") was a large unit designated the First Corps, then stationed in Korea. Soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen often go through an entire enlistment responding correctly to an acronym, something like USASESS, without knowing what it means. (United States Army Southeastern Signal School, though that was 45 years ago, and it probably has a different name and acronym now.) The military is, indeed, a world apart with its own language and culture, and Klay skillfully makes this clear, especially in the story titled Frago.
In Money as a Weapons System, Klay does a fine job of reporting the almost unbelievable stupidity, greed, and ideological inflexibility that terminally hamper efforts to promote economic and other forms of essential development in Third World nations such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Money as a Weapons System makes abundantly evident that the idiots are most often not the ones wearing uniforms, but out-of-touch civilians who are frequently not even in-country. Members of the military and the civilians working closest with them do the best they can with the orders they're given, even when the directives are patently senseless. Ironically, however, even the most seasoned veterans of hopelessly misguided nation-building sometimes acknowledge that, in spite of the nonsensical nature of so many developmental efforts, over time things do get a bit better. I was surprised when I read this observation made by an experienced army major, and I believed him, but I'm still trying to make sense of it.
Prayer in the Furnace is a story that sometimes devolves into platitudes, bromides, cliche's, and obvious pastoral blunders. Nevertheless, it does a creditable job of making painfully evident the psychological cost of long-term combat. Yes, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is one debilitating consequence, but so are uncomplicated but deeply felt guilt and shame, sometimes sources of anguish that simply can't be put down and may lead to self-destruction. How do you cope with the death of the closest friend you've ever had? How do you come to terms with the accidental killing of a child, or the intentional killing of a child who has been turned into an unwitting warrior? What do you do when your commanding officer is a reckless butcher who has no interest in his men's welfare and demands that they kill anything that looks even vaguely suspicious?
The weakest stories in Redeployment, especially Psychological Operations, are set entirely state-side. They're not completely without merit, but they don't measure up to the interest generated by the rest of Klay's collection. Nevertheless, a story that forces us to to ask ourselves how we'd function in civilian life if we'd had our face burned off by a battlefield explosion is almost certain to hit home. A horrifying question posed by the short piece titled War Stories.
Redeployment is an uneven collection, but from stories that are brilliant to those that are so-so, every page warrants reading. It doesn't matter if the reader is pro-war, anti-war, or indifferent, Redeployment is a good book.
on August 18, 2014
I was excited to get this as a gift after reading a couple glowing reviews and my excitement waned somewhere around page 70. Maybe the reviewers felt that a poor review reflected badly on Phil Klay's service to country vice his writing. I didn't find anything new here when compared with Black Hawk Down, Generation Kill, or Jarhead. For the most part, the stories were populated with characters found in other modern warfare writing: the edgy warrior facing difficulty returning to society, the masochistic drill instructor, the hormone-riddled young solider, the unhinged officer who places glory in combat over the welfare of his men, a Vietnamese-war prostitute even makes an appearance. Part of the weakness arises because it is a compilation of short stories so that while the stories are supposed to represent different points of view—the conversation, tone, and language remains the same. Would all these varied characters speak in acronym? The format leaves little time for character development. I'm probably ok with the lack of character development since I don't think I wanted to spend more time with many of them. I did give it a two because I felt that 2-3 of the stories had merit and looked at a aspect of war not usually discussed.
on February 8, 2015
This book should come with a big warning: Jargon. Too much of it, which may not be understood by "civilians".
I wanted to love this book. Really. Sadly, I was disappointed.
I was misguided by some other reviews. I thought it is a great collection of short stories about Iraq war veterans. We all hear and read about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other issues (dependency on high-potency medicines and drugs, broken families – spouses/partners leaving, trouble assimilating into "civilian" lives, etc.). I thought this could shed more light on similar, or for that matter, even other untouched topics. Being a war veteran, the author will be able to draw from personal experiences and those of his military friends and help a civilian understand their perspectives about war.
The book is filled with jargon. Way too much of it. I am okay with the foul language. I understand that the some of the conversations mentioned are among younger soldiers and, as such, has to reflect their actual speech and tone. If soldiers abuse a lot, that should be included in the book. If they use jargon, I understand that as well. But then, there should be a glossary for the same. Even with the X-Ray feature on Kindle, a lot of the terminology leaves the reader guessing.
Military family members may not find the jargon overwhelming. For active and reserve military personnel and veterans, the jargon might feel like regular conversation.
A snippet from the book to illustrate my view:
"EOD handled the bombs. SSTP treated the wounds. PRP processed the bodies. The 08s fired DPICM. The MAW provided CAS. The 03s patrolled the MSRs. Me and PFC handled the money." -- from the chapter "OIF".
I do not think these are common terminologies that you hear civilians speak about. Some of these acronyms, you can search and find out and some are available on X-Ray; but "08" and "03"? Even if you can find out online, it essentially reduces your reading speed, and more importantly, breaks the story that you are trying to read.
What ends up happening is that the reader just thinks of it as "some military terminology", makes assumptions from the context and moves on with reading the rest. But when the book is filled with such jargon, it feels unfair to read it without an appendix or a glossary explaining these abbreviations and terms.
Sadly, of the 12 stories, no stories are written from the perspective of women in the military (active personnel, not family members). I suppose some stories are written in first person where we do not learn of the writer's sex, but no explicit stories of women serving in war.
If I had to choose, I would say that I liked less than a handful of the short-stories (not surprisingly, they are the ones which did not feel littered with jargon) namely, "Money as a Weapons System" and "Redeployment".
"Money as a Weapons System" tells the story of a Foreign Service Officer who wants to help in the rehabilitation of the communities affected by war but struggles to do so due to conflicts among local communities and how some rich American businessman has no clue of the struggle of the the people's lives and feels that baseball is the solution to the problems they are facing.
"Redeployment" (title of the first short story) speaks about a soldier returning home and the difficulties he has adjusting to civilian life immediately after.
Overall, if you are not familiar with complex military terminology, this is a hard book to read.
I've read some books about war, including Hemingway, Kerr, Fountain, Fallon, and Englander. It seems to me that Klay is in a genre all his own. His book of short stories is so different, so present and prescient that I felt like I was being slapped, and slapped again. I reeled from this book and even when there were parts that were beyond my understanding, I felt them like a brain freeze from eating something that is too cold. It is visceral and dangerous to the emotions. I realize that I was not there and can not understand all that Klay talks about, but the parts that I think I understood, changed me. That is what true art does.
Klay writes about the middle east and the marines that fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of the characters are carried through from one story to the next and other stories stand alone. All of the stories are rock solid and hard hitting. They reminded me of the boundaries that separate the fighters from the civilians. I am definitely a civilian who got a chance to peak into this hidden world.
In the title story, Redeployment, a marine comes back to the states after his deployment in Iraq. It is very difficult for him to traverse the emotional distance between his wartime experiences and his being at home. "Outside, there're people walking around by the windows like it's no big deal. People who have no idea where Fallejah is. Where three members of your platoon died."
After Action Report is about Timhead, a marine who shoots a 16 year-old Iraqi boy in self-defense. At Timhead's request, his partner pretends he was the one who killed the boy. He takes on Timhead's persona as he tries to unmask his feelings to his sergeant and the chaplain.
Money As A Weapons System is a poignant story. A marine tries to improve the quality of life of Iraqi civilians. He finds that no matter what he tries, he's up against a wall. He's interested in a water treatment plant and then a women's health project but, ultimately, the politics of the situation mandate that he support baseball as a pastime for Iraqi youth despite the lack of interest.
Prayer in the Furnace really hit me hard. A priest to the marines stationed in Iraq realizes he's hopeless to make a difference in the killing fields which are a "morally bruising battlefield".
The book uses a lot of acronyms which I did not understand. Despite this, I got the drift of the them. Usually in a collection, there are a few stories that are good, and if the reader is lucky, even great. Then there are stories that don't cut the mustard. This is a book of stories that hold their own and more. There is power in each one with some to spare. The writing is hardcore and honest and in your face. At times, it is even poetic. I highly recommend this book to everyone - whether they're political or apolitical; right-wing or left-wing; knowledgeable about the war or not. One thing is for certain - this book will change you in important ways. You will have insight into the military, war, and marines that you never had before.
on March 11, 2014
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.
on April 15, 2014
This would have been a five-star review but for the author's annoying and promiscuous use of acronyms. This resulted in two negative effects on this work:
1. It completely disrupted the otherwise very appealing narrative flow of the book. In fact, at times, Klay's lack of restraint in the use of acronyms makes his prose degenerate into alphabet soup. Here is one of the worst examples:
"SSTP treated the wounds. PRP processed the bodies. The 08s fired DPICM. The MAW provided CAS. The 03s patrolled the MSRs. Me and PFC handled the money."
Why weren't his editors at Penguin all over this?
2. The fact that Klay deliberately left these terms undefined in his work creates an implicit yet unmistakable ambience of contemptuous exclusivity towards his readers. It suggests that those of us who needed these terms defined weren't there in Iraq with him and therefore were undeserving of the effort it might take to provide a glossary of these terms.
And this is not excused because that's the way Marines in Iraq spoke or, as one comment suggests, "that outsiders must run hard just to understand the language." Every author of works like this owes his readers clarity and this is where Klay's work, with a deliberate, incomprehensible, narrative self-destruction, fails.
on February 10, 2015
Whoa. This book takes on some of the hard truths that soldiers and Marines returning from (and participating in) the longest two wars in American history have to face. As a veteran this was a difficult read for me. When I started the book I didn't realize it was a collection of short stories. At first I was disappointed because the first story is so raw and powerful. It's about how a man returning home from Iraq struggles to reintegrate back into everyday life with his wife and dog. I wanted to know more of that character's struggles. In the end though it turned out to be a good thing that this was short stories because I found that I could only read it in short bursts, so harrowing are the narratives at times. Perhaps this is the reason I don't read a lot of war fiction (or war non-fiction, for that matter).
In a time where less than one percent of the American population is in the military - it's so easy for some to forget the experience that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been through. There are many people who don't know anyone in the military. This book is important if not for that reason alone.
A line in the first story 'Redeployment' struck me so hard because it's the honest to god's truth.
"We took my combat pay and did a lot of shopping. Which is how America fights back against the terrorists."
What else is there to do after you're haunted by a war that makes little to no sense to you or the rest of the country? Another line that I ran across hit me hard because as a veteran I've always had a hard time with the "Thank you for your service" type gratitude actions that I would get. It's an awkward feeling that many veterans don't know what to do with (I'm not saying don't do it when you see a man or woman in uniform - just that it's a weird feeling - at least for me).
"I was angry. I'd gotten a lot of Thank You for Your Service handshakes, but nobody really knew what that service meant..."
I worked as a Unit Deployment Manager for the Air Force, it was my job to tend to all the airmen that would be deployed, ensuring they had all their training, paperwork, and equipment. While because of my rank I was not the one making personal selections on who would go and who would stay at home (unlike the Army, the Air Force does not deploy entire units at one time, instead it's a piecemeal selection of individuals based on job functions that are needed down-range). Despite that I still fielded phone-calls from angry spouses and sent men and women away from their families to miss anniversaries, Christmases, and even the birth of their children.
The stories in Redeployment focus exclusively on the Army and the Marine Corps and I'm okay with that. The problem that I had with this collection is that there were no stories told from the point of view of female characters. Women, despite not technically being allowed in combat, are in combat. I felt that Klay might have strengthened his book if he could have told at least one story from the perspective of a woman.
The other thing that will probably drive civilian readers crazy are the excessive acronyms. It didn't bother me because I knew what most of them meant, but I can definitely see this as being an impediment for a reader with little to no knowledge of military jargon.
Like I said, this was a difficult read for me but I do think that it's an incredibly important and well written book. It's not really about the wars themselves, it's a portrait of the people who fight those wars at the lowest level. I have to highly recommend it to everyone.