Monday, July 17, 2017

I don't usually write book reports...

...But when I do, It's because they have deeper meanings

This exemplary sample of the PEDICULARIS GROENLANDICA, elephant head is clearly in focus. Do we look near first or far first?  
Do we look at what is right before us or off in the distance?
Fives and Twenty-Fives sheds light on what soldiers might do.

Fives and Twenty Fives, by Michale Pitre
The Things They Carry by Tim O"Brien

I don't usually take to writing "book reports" because that means I have to read the entire book. Yet a former colleague recommended each of these war novels and I was thoroughly intrigued. With benign beginnings, their true colors took time to develop, ferment and become clearly delineated. Both toggle back between war and peace time. Both include palatable descriptions of atrocities. Yet both weave a theme of the mind, and it's internal battle being much harder to wage. The rules of engagement are thoroughly blurred. Fives and Twenty Fives was written in response the US involvement in Iraq. The Things They Carried hearkens all the way back to Vietnam and assembles a few short stories about men and women during war times. 

Fives and Twenty Fives
This novel, typically first person but often in mixed tenses, ranging from past to present. Some incidents described are from a few years past to recent history to current events and activities. Regardless many vignettes articulate the thoughts, struggles and deliberations within the narrators mind and a few other influential characters. He bounces between Baghdad and USA, almost on alternating paragraphs. 

Fives and twenty fives is a story recording how a veteran strives to adjust back to civilian life, the demons he faces, and actively working to leave the past behind. This deliberation consumes most of the thoughts and processes within his mind. For instance, he describes a scene in Baghdad, then dovetails right back to his current conversation, then takes us back to Baghdad for the conclusion.

We get the idea that this back and forth tracking from one setting to another, from the past to the present, from the coping to the struggle, is common and substantial in the re-adjustment period for someone who has endured trauma so debilitating, like a war, battle or major life changing event. Early in the novel, a reader may become distracted by the constant change of venue, but by the end, readers accept and even expecting the multiple or parallel sagas under contemplation. We become accustom to this cycle or rhythm. 

Preliminary impressions suggest the fluid or dynamic nature within the mind of a veteran during assimilation back. A battle scarred mind might find it tough to shut off or disconnect from the past temporary life in an effort to rejoin civilization or society that he strove to insulate. THIS IS THE TRUE COST OF WAR. The young people that go and come back as somebody different with some physical as well as mental scars that take time to heal.


The Things They Carry by Tim O"Brien

This hiker carries everything necessary for a 5 day back-country excursion.  At the end of the day, he takes it off, unpacks his tent, sleeping bag and cooking gear.  The next day, he GETS to put it back on and repeat.

Another war novel, The Things They Carried, begins with an introduction to the plethora of items inside a Vietnam soldier's backpack. Listed could be anything from extra weapons, ammunition or communication devices to a talisman personally attached to the host; a photo of a loved one, a religious icon or a lucky charm. However much is in the backpack almost begs to be debated. We almost get wrapped up in the idea that what is in the backpack is important. The reader becomes engaged in the value or merit of each item, but this is just a distraction.

Of course, soldiers carry their necessities, day in, day out, but at the end of every day, they might get lucky enough to peel off their load, get rid of the extra weight and rest. The end of the day, battle or attack allowed the warrior the chance to recover, recenter and recuperate. The Sergeant orders "halt" and the first thing to happen, off comes the backpack and with it the weighty burden.

By the end of The Things, we realize the things that are in the backpack are only physical. They can be taken off or picked back up again. An alternative aspect, the mental and not the physical, draws us into the concept of a psychological or internal struggle that is not so easily laid down. 

Thoughts, memories or actions, done in the name of war, still linger, still haunt and still replay in the weary warrior's mind over and over and over. This brings us to the true theme. A warrior's mind never leaves the battlefield, no matter how much time or geography separates him from his past. The things that he carries are far weightier than the pack. Items of war, hate and poison that threaten to leach their toxicity into their host if nothing is done about it.