3 Books that Honor American Soldiers

Anbar Province Iraq

In honor of Memorial Day, the Chicago Writers Conference has cultivated a short list of books that honor American soldiers. Each selection has been published within the last five years and provides a deeply affecting account of modern warfare. Stop by a local bookstore between barbecues this weekend and check them out! (Photo Credit: Eros Hoagland, Redux)

Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

The Yellow Birds: A Novel  (2013)

Kevin Powers

This National Book Award Winner tells the story of two unprepared soldiers: twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy in Al Tafar, Iraq. They cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city.

“In the endless days that follow, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that press in on every side: the insurgents, physical fatigue, and the mental stress that comes from constant danger. As reality begins to blur into a hazy nightmare, Murphy becomes increasingly unmoored from the world around him and Bartle takes actions he could never have imagined.”

The New York Times had this to say about The Yellow Birds: “A remarkable first novel…The Yellow Birds is brilliantly observed and deeply affecting: at once a freshly imagined bildungsroman about a soldier’s coming of age, a harrowing story about the friendship of two young men trying to stay alive on the battlefield in Iraq, and a philosophical parable about the loss of innocence and the uses of memory.”

the things they cannot say

The Things They Cannot Say: Stories Soldiers Won’t Tell You About What They’ve Seen, Done or Failed to Do In War (2013)

Kevin Sites

Award-wining journalist Kevin Sites asks difficult questions to eleven soldiers and marines, prompting them to share the rarely heard truth about what it is like to kill, be under fire, and see sights that you can never forget:

“For each of these men, many of whom Sites first met while in Afghanistan and Iraq, the truth means something different. One struggles to recover from a head injury he believes has stolen his ability to love; another attempts to make amends for the killing of an innocent man; yet another finds respect for the enemy fighter who tried to kill him. Sites also shares the unsettling narrative of his own failures during war—including his complicity in a murder—and the redemptive powers of storytelling that saved him from a self-destructive downward spiral.”

The San Francisco Chronicle said this about The Things They Cannot Say: “Sites highlights the importance of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and sharing stories. Most importantly, he forces readers, those average civilians, to look at what war does to people and think about whether it’s always worth it.”

Redeployment Phil Klay

Redeployment (2014)

Phil Klay

Another National Book Award Winner, Phil Klay takes readers to the front lines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with short stories that interweave themes of brutality and faith, guilt and fear, helplessness and survival.

In the moving story that gives the book its title “a soldier who has had to shoot dogs because they were eating human corpses must learn what it is like to return to domestic life in suburbia, surrounded by people “who have no idea where Fallujah is, where three members of your platoon died.”

“These stories reveal the intricate combination of monotony, bureaucracy, comradeship and violence that make up a soldier’s daily life at war, and the isolation, remorse, and despair that can accompany a soldier’s homecoming.”

The New Yorker says of Redeployment: “The best literary work thus far written by a veteran of America’s recent wars…. Klay’s fiction peels back every pretty falsehood and self-delusion in the encounter between veterans and the people for whom they supposedly fought.”

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