Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Good Soldiers by David Finkel

Readers like to put books into mental categories. The best books for this and the best books for that. While these sets of books are often in flux, some stay with us forever. There are books that will always be in one category or another. They made us howl with laughter, they kept us up into the wee hours of the morning with fear and anticipation, they ripped out a piece from our heart, or took us to an exceptional place in our own lives. There is also that special category; a handful of books that we know as we turn page-after-page, will be among the best we have ever read. But more than being the best, we know they are important. We know they will change us. It does not happen too often, but there are times when I’m reading a book and my brain tells me that I will be a better person having read these pages. That’s how I feel about David Finkel’s The Good Soldiers.

Finkel is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter with the Washington Post. As the “surge” in Iraq was beginning, he spent (off and on) fifteen months with Battalion 2-16, the Rangers. All of the soldiers knew that everything he witnessed and heard was on the record. They opened their lives and their deaths to Finkel. They allowed us to see war. Not “TV news war” or eighth grade “textbook war,” but the war that usually goes unseen because it’s too horrific or politically uncomfortable to show, or because it will lower Nielsen ratings, or because a nation does not want to take time away from watching “American Idol” or “Lost” to know what is happening on the other side of the world. Out of sight, out of mind.

This book is not for the faint at heart. It is violent. There were times when I was reading it that I set the book down to take a breath.

The writing is gorgeous. As I look back now, in some ways the book reminds me of Cormac McCarthy’s dystopian novel, The Road. They are both bleak and brutal with stunning prose that leaps off the page. The difference, of course, is that McCarthy’s book is fiction. But they are both about dystopian madness. One just happens to be taking place today.

If there is a main actor the story revolves around in The Good Soldiers it would be the leader of the Rangers, Colonel Kauzlarich, a man fiercely dedicated to his soldiers. The book follows him from the battlefield to his office, from his meetings with Iraqis to visits with his wounded soldiers, from his time off with his family in Orlando and into the blood-soaked medical aid stations.

Reading this book should have nothing to do with if you were for the war or against the war. Yes, it is about Iraq, and Finkel opens each chapter with a bitingly ironic quote from George W. Bush. But this book is about war. This war, past wars, and every war we will all have to make choices about in the future.

1 comment :

Colleen said...

Thank you.

I'm buying this now.