Monday, April 28, 2008

War: What Is It Good For?

  • The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. One of the most significant books about war ever written and a devastating portrait of the Vietnam War in particular. If you want to know what a grunt's life was like in Vietnam, you must read this.

  • If I Die in a Combat Zone by Tim O'Brien. O'Brien's war autobiography. He writes about why he fought in a war he did not choose and how he survived. Again, devastating. To many historians, he is the voice of this war.

  • Amaryllis by Craig Crist-Evans. The story of two brothers, one who goes to Vietnam and one who waits for him to come home, plays out in stories of life on the FL beach in the 1960s. Both sides of this novel are intense but it is the look at life back at home that truly elevates it to something special.

  • Kipling's Choice by Geert Spillebeen. Many of us know the stories of Rudyard Kipling (The Jungle Book, Kim) but few know that he urged his young son to go to war so he could become a man and then lost him to battle only a few weeks after he reached the front lines. This is WWI at its most honest and the way Spillebeen depicts John Kipling's lonely death and his father's desperate search to discover what happened does much to dispel the myth that war is glorious.

  • The Blue Helmet by William Bell. For our lucky Canadian readers (it still has not been published in the US) this book about a UN peacekeeper who comes apart after returning home shows the impossibility of preserving peace through war. The teen protagonist, who is inches away from joining a gang for no particular reason, learns much about the reality of violence and the price it demands from all those who become lost within it.

  • Dateline: Troy by Paul Fleischman. For anyone who ever wondered why Homer is relevant (and I was one of you), Fleischman juxtaposes short passages from The Iliad with newspaper clippings, photographs and ephemera from modern wars. It's war art and highly combustible - and the first time I truly understand what the Greeks had to say on war.

  • Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda by Jean-Philippe Stassen (graphic novel). An intense and devastating portrait of the Rwandan tragedy through the eyes of a teenaged boy whose normality is ripped away by violence and genocide.

  • Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon (graphic novel). An allegorical story, based on true events, of four lions who escape the Baghdad Zoo after a bombing raid. Their experiences on the streets of Baghdad, and their internal struggles, parallel those of the Iraqis themselves.

  • Here, Bullet by Brian Turner. A collection of poems about what it is to be a soldier from a veteran of the Iraq war.

  • Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. Orwell fought against Franco's fascists in the Spanish Civil War. A bullet in the throat almost killed him. This account of his experiences also explains the political machinations that led to the fascist victory.

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