The five books on this list — chosen for Veteran’s Day — are not remembrances or celebrations but they are all written by veterans and they tell their stories. To listen, to read is to honor.
Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes takes the reader to the Vietnam War, 1969, where young men continue to fight a war perhaps already lost. It is a complex novel that can sometimes overwhelm with detail and exhaust with emotional intensity, but it urges us – the reader – to grapple with search for meaning, just as the young men fighting do. There is great truth in this novel about the bonds of friendship, the responsibility of leadership, and the tasks of courage. Matterhorn does not glorify war or revel in killing the enemy; rather, it is a novel about healing. Read the complete review.
The Stick Soldiers
The Stick Soldiers by Hugh Martin bears witness to war through poetry. It is a collection of poems written by a young man who served in Iraq and has, at times, a discomfiting closeness to the reality of war where the reader might fight the urge to close the eyes, to not see what the poet has to offer. The poems are – yes – about the solider but also about the Iraqi child, the Iraqi father living with war. It is not light reading, but it is necessary reading if we are to heal the wounds of war. Read the complete review, and don’t miss our interview with Hugh Martin.
Phil Klay’s Redeployment is a reality check on our volunteer military, and a taste of what our soldiers have endured through the post-millennium Middle East wars. It is a collection of twelve short stories with a narrative so engrossing that they fall seamlessly together into what may seem a complete novel, and these are stories not just of “over there” but also of civilian life “over here.” Redeployment provides a tragically entertaining insight into the modern military. It is a must read. Read the complete review.
Returning Soldiers Speak
Returning Soldiers Speak is an anthology of writings – essays, short stories, and poetry – by veterans from World War II to present-day wars. Leilani Squire, editor, introduces the anthology: “It takes courage, honesty and authenticity to bare one’s heart and soul so others may listen.” The stories shared peel back layers of trauma, pain, distance, and humor to reveal to those who have not experienced war what it must have “been like” and what is “carried home.” The anthology is a prescription for healing, for both those who share their stories and those who read them. Read the complete review.
Youngblood by Matt Gallagher is a gripping novel for both its story and emotional depth. As the Iraq war enters its final days and the US military begins withdrawing troops, Lt. Jack Porter struggles with the meaning of it all: the war, the alliances, the bloodshed, the withdrawal. He tries to maintain his leadership in the face of new chaos from external forces and new challenges from his own forces. The story of Youngblood unfolds as Jack becomes obsessed with an enigmatic, tragic story of love between a local sheik’s daughter and a missing American soldier. His obsession with this love story and resolving its truth drives the novel forward, but being witness to Jack’s psychological turmoil and moral questioning is what gives the reader pause to question our own meaning. A must read.