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My War With Hemingway Paperback – October 15, 2015
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About the Author
James Charles is a U.S. Army Veteran and served in The Middle East, Honduras, Europe and the United States. He is currently an administrator with the Los Angeles Unified School District.
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Top customer reviews
That's probably because, in many ways, I identified strongly with its central character.
Like its protagonist, Zach Powell, I am a veteran; though I did my two tours as a rifleman and later as an infantry adviser in Vietnam and not in Iraq or Afghanistan. Like him, I came home from the war determined to get on with my life; to be "normal."
Like him, I was a journalist.
And, like him, I long denied that the war had affected me in any substantive way.
The similarities don't end there.
Like Zach, I could not stay away from conflict.
He goes to Egypt during the dangerous days of the Arab Spring, for example.
I lived undercover with white supremacists when I worked for a paper in Buffalo; I covered civil unrest in and - later - the invasion of Panama; I covered Operation Desert Storm from the desert by posing as a National Guardsman from Florida; I went to Haiti and was once yanked off a bus in the middle of the night by soldiers who threatened to shoot me if I did not pay them off (I didn't.) A photographer and I rode out Hurricane Andrew in a pick-up truck; another photographer and I rode out Hurricane Rita in an SUV. There were many other assignments like that over my nearly 50 years as a journalist because if it was dangerous I not only volunteered for the assignment I did everything but throw a fit if I was not given permission to go.
Zach and I differ, however, in some key respects.
He is an alcoholic.
I seldom drink; have, in fact, only been drunk twice in my life and both times were while I was in the Army.
He has to be dragged into rehab and counseling.
After many years of denying I needed help, I went voluntarily. Three failed marriages, a dozen failed relationships and the certain knowledge that there was never going to be a time and place where I could get enough action to satisfy my need to be back in combat convinced me that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was not something that I could deal with on my own.
I note all this because, while this book was uncomfortable for me to read it was also - I think - important that I did.
And I think it is important that other veterans, regardless of where or when they served, do as well.
Well, for one, author James Charles, himself a veteran, has chosen an interesting way to tell Zach's story by having his hero periodically converse with the spirit (?) of Ernest Hemingway. This ghost or spirit or hallucination of the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author appears to Zach in seedy motel rooms, in his bedroom, at the houses of friends, in bars and on the road. Zach doesn't consciously summon the writer and there are times when he wishes Hemingway would appear but he does not.
It's an intriguing literary device and, I believe, an effective one because it allows Charles to insert some of Hemingway's best observations on love, life and war into the story without disrupting the narrative.
That narrative occasionally stretches the bounds of my belief beyond the point at which I am prepared to suspend it, however.
There is an incident in Georgia involving a friend of his from the Army, for example: A hostage situation that has brought local police and the FBI into the act. Zach, in New York at the time, makes hurried flight plans and arrives at the scene in time to be involved in it. I dealt with local cops and FBI agents for many years and I never saw them allow a civilian to get involved in hostage negotiations unless they were family members and, even then, only by telephone. An Army buddy arriving at such a scene would have been quietly shuffled off to a rear area, perhaps pumped for some information but never allowed to be intimately involved.
Overriding those concerns of mine, however, were the author's very descriptive scenes of men in combat and men in the throes of substance abuse. I volunteered for many years at Attica and at veterans centers - both public and private - and saw firsthand the way substance abuse turned men into hollow versions of themselves. I can say that Charles has very accurately described what it's like to be in combat in a war zone and in combat with your inner self once you come home.
This is an important book, not only for veterans but for everyone because, the truth is, as Hemingway once said: “For what are we born if not to aid one another?”
Charles is, I think, trying to do just that.
The American dream— the democracy, the freedom, the lifestyle, and the rights— aren’t possible without those who pay the cost. It goes deeper than the politics and the monetary; it is the sacrifice of humanity that saves humanity. Our country’s early soldiers (my own relatives among them) fought on American soil. Since that time, our military has secured our country within and far from our shores. Unfortunately, the shared sacrifice citizens made on the home front for the success of our troops has dwindled since World War II, along with the support of and for the returning veterans. The military families make the sacrifices during deployment and continue once their battle-changed men and women come home. The modern way of “if it’s broken, just get a new one” does not, and should not apply to people, especially not our military.
I give MY WAR WITH HEMINGWAY by James Charles five stars.
Most recent customer reviews
Loved the psychological aspect of the aftermath of returning from war and how it affected the main...Read more