This is literary journalism at its utter finest. Finkel’s first book, The Good Soldiers (2009), is the best book I’ve read about what it was like to be a soldier in Iraq; this new book is the best I’ve read about what it is like to have been a soldier in Iraq. I am not kidding when I say that it seems to me, after having read both books, that the emotional and physical traumas of having fought seem comparably dangerous and debilitating to the traumas of fighting. Fighting, everything happens at once, you’re with your friends, your environment is complex and alien and ever-shifting, there’s little time to think. Coming home after having fought, you have nothing but time to think. Instants of experience in Iraq become unending operas of nightmare when you’re back in your cul-de-sac in Kansas. It takes half a second to get both your legs blown off, and then the rest of your life to try to feel like a whole person again.
You should read this book, whoever you are, so I won’t say too much more about it except two things. One: Finkel’s a masterful journalist and if no one’s yet called him the Michael Herr of Iraq allow me to be the first. Two: I particularly appreciated here the way that Finkel draws our attention to the traumas endured by the families of soldiers returned from war. If veterans are forgotten, and veterans whose war wounds are invisible rather than visible (mental health problems, traumatic brain injury) are doubly forgotten, then triply forgotten are the wives and children and mothers and fathers who have to try to pay the mortgages and put food on the table while also trying to cope with the presence of a beloved but shattered person in their lives. These veterans’ families are fighting a war too, and their patrol will never end.