Posts Tagged war

book review: And West is West

and west is west

And West is West by Ron Childress. Algonquin| October 2015| 320 pages | $26.95| ISBN: 9781616205232

RATING: ****/5*

“In the previous century the sin of losing money was forgivable. Bankruptcy was lenient. The rich were neither so rich nor so greedy nor so paranoid. But with the American century shrinking in the rearview mirror, the country has given up on being the land of second chances, or even first. Basically, the new millennium sucks for latecomers.”

Beautiful cover and topical themes– millennials caught in the cross-fire of war and economics– drew me to this novel. Jessica is an Air Force drone pilot in Nevada. She drops bombs on terrorists, sometimes killing civilians in the process. Author Ron Childress writes: “Jessica had always charted her long-term future like a psychic predicting happiness: a disciplined twenty years would culminate in a military pension and return her to her beachside hometown in Florida.” Wall Street analyst Ethan works on an algorithm to allow his company to profit from terrorist activities. Childress writes: “This is what makes him useful to UIB: his combination of technical skill and real-world imagination, his ability to see connections that neither the pure programmer nor the pure trader is likely to see. He binges on coffee and Provigil to keep alert.” The global ramifications for both Jessica and Ethan prove intense, catastrophic and scary. In this debut novel, author Ron Childress convincingly writes about the military, the financial world and today’s millennials.

This is the first novel by Childress who left the tech marketing agency he founded with his wife in 2000 to pursue a writing career. He’d earned his bachelors, masters and PhD in literature. Before founding the company he worked as a communications manager. I appreciate this bio because many of us with English degrees and aspirations to write novels or memoirs work in communications.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Algonquin.

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Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman [Spiegel & Grau]
–at turns daunting, authentic, provocative and spellbinding. The best part is that it’s about women from all different backgrounds bonding to endure a miserable situation.

WAR by Sebastian Junger [Twelve]
–Junger brings much needed attention to this ongoing war on terrorism. So little is written about Afghanistan in the press yet it’s a fierce, exhaustive war. Junger also includes and honest assessment about the war in Afghanistan and the attitudes of the troops.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot [Crown]

It Could Be Worse, You Could Be Me by Ariel Leve [Harper Perennial]
–Leve is a major pessimist, sets low standards to avoid disappointment, would rather stay in bed than get dressed and made up to go to a party that *might* not be worth her time. She expresses in print what most of us think. She’s observant, sharply critical and savvy. Leve’s irreverent voice and bittersweet outlook mingle in an erudite, esoteric manner.

Half A Life by Darin Strauss [McSweeney’s]
–At 18, Strauss hit a girl while driving and she died. He examines his feelings related to the girl who died as well as the accident and its aftermath. Strauss writes honestly, exquisitely and provides a thorough examination of this profoundly personal experience. Half A Life is a provocative, intense read.

Bitch is the New Black by Helena Andrews [Harper]
–another stand-out memoir by a strong, opinionated, independent woman who has achieved monumental professional success but by society’s standards hasn’t yet hit her stride on the personal front.

FURY by Karen Zailckas [Viking Adult]
–After spending many years binge drinking and writing about it in the best-seller Smashed, Zailckas wanted to examine women’s relationship to anger. In doing so, she realized she had a lot of her own.

A Ticket to the Circusby Norris Church Mailer [Random House]

The Match by Susan Whitman Helfgot [Simon & Schuster]
–Reinforcing the importance of organ donation through the story of two men who never meet but whose lives intersect in a remarkable manner, The Match is a vastly informative and engulfing read.

CLEOPATRA by Stacy Schiff [Little, Brown]

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book review: WAR

Title: WAR
Author: Sebastian Junger
ISBN: 978-0446556248
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Twelve (May 11, 2010)
Category: current events
Review source: publisher
Rating: B+

Once again, a couple of guys with rifles have managed to jam up an entire company’s worth of infantry. Ostlund and his staff get back on the Black Hawk with Captain Kearney, and they head across the valley for Firebase Vegas. I’m standing next to a tall Marine named Cannon who tells me that the war here is way more intense than most people understand. While we’re talking the shooting starts up again, a staccato hammering that I know recognize as the .50 out at Vegas.

Best known for The Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger wrote about the Boston Strangler in A Death in Belmont and being a reporter in such hot spots as Sierra Leone and the former Yugoslavia in Fire. In WAR, Junger travels through Afghanistan with young U.S. troops as an embedded journalist. WAR provides a violent, unflinching account of the war in Afghanistan down to the bloody details of death and the minutiae of war. Afghanistan is such a poor, vast, isolated country with plenty of places for the Taliban and Al Queda to hide. In writing this book, Junger brings much needed attention to this ongoing war on terrorism. So little is written about Afghanistan in the press yet it’s a fierce, exhaustive war. Junger also includes and honest assessment about the war in Afghanistan and the attitudes of the troops.

Stripped to its essence, combat is a series of quick decisions and rather precise actions carried out in concert with ten or twelve other men. In that sense it’s much more like football than, say, like soccer. The unit that choreographs their actions best usually wins. They might take causalities but they win.

WAR is set in three parts: FEAR, KILLING and LOVE. Junger adds extensive military history and facts throughout. When he explains fear he explains the body/mind connection and also the results of military tests [men have a greater reaction time than women]. Remaining objective as possible, Junger certainly faces numerous challenges. He often must base decisions on journalistic integrity vs. personal safety.

Soldiers use magical thinking and have varied superstitions. Most of the soldiers are in their early 20s, many with INFIDEL tattoos emblazoned on their bodies because “That’s what the enemy calls us on their radios.” War is the only thing many know at this point in their young lives. Re-entry into civilian life can often be much more complex than war for many. Having been used to the excitement and fast-paced action, suddenly many aren’t doing much of anything and want to go back. In stark conditions, stocked for months with supplies and no relief in sight, the American troops often fight an unseen enemy that hides and follows no order, no rules of engagement.

After 9/11 most people have a basic understanding of the modus operandi of terrorists. The Taliban fights dirty—snipers, sneak attacks in early morning or late night and chaos. They have numerous “counter-measures” to American attacks and are tricky to seek out and capture, mainly due to the terrain and the Taliban’s intimate knowledge of the land. Not that any war is a positive. It’s not. Junger states that the appeal of combat is not killing but protecting. WAR is an intense, gripping read.

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book review: Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq

Title: Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq
Author: Christopher Coppola, M.D., LTC, USAF
ISBN: 978-0984053117
Pages: 285
Publisher: NTI Upstream (February 1, 2010)
Category: non-fiction
Review source: Library Thing Early Reviewers
Rating: 4.5/5

There is no one around and the housing compound is silent. The oscillating razor feels warm against my forehead as I slide the stainless steel blade across the crown. I suppose shaving my head is a kind of acceptance of the rotten situation of having to be here. I feel a lot of things-loneliness, fear, concern for my family back in Texas. As the last vestiges of my stateside life pile in black-gray clumps on the wet earth, I take a full breath. No longer is there any doubt my part in this war is real. Until now, the war has been something I have critiqued from afar as a mistake, a missed opportunity to deal with the stability of Iraq as a world community. But now I am in the middle of it and it is personal.

Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq reads a bit like M*A*S*H in the Middle East. There are some funny times, poignant moments, absurdities and plenty of new friendships spawned during Dr. Chris Coppola’s two four month tours. To pay for medical school, Coppola agreed to service with the USAF and earned two tours of duty in Iraq. He received his medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in surgery at Yale University. He completed pediatric surgery training at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

When Dr. Coppola arrives in Iraq, his twelve surgeon team of general surgeons and specialists—orthopedic, urology, neurosurgery, pediatrics, ophthalmology, maxillofacial—replaces the team that has been there for the past four months. Most of his team are from Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio but others are reservists that have been called up for duty or from smaller Air Force Hospitals. So at least Dr. Coppola recognizes some familiar faces.

During his tour of duty, he faces some tough cases, professionally and personally. His writing style is not overly sentimental or too detached. He’s right there in the mix of it all– with the destruction of families and lives. Of Americans and Iraqis. Although by the second tour of duty, Dr. Coppola’s narratives read a bit more jaded, tired and matter-of-fact.

On Election Day, a 7-year-old boy got struck in the head with a piece of shrapnel during a bombing. An insurgent bleeds out after pre-maturely detonating an IED. [“The patient is a mess. His entire body looks like it was run through a meat grinder.] An Iraqi man brings in his son with a problem. His son has an intersex anomaly—he has been born with some female and some male parts. He has female reproductive organs that need to be removed so he can live his life as a regular boy. But the father is adamant that nothing is wrong. Dr. Coppola worries that the boy will not receive the care he require: the surgery or hormone therapy. After taking care of a two-year-old girl with severe burns for a month, the girl, Leila, died. It deeply affected Coppola. [“But tonight I am broken.”] He had completed several arduous skin graft surgeries on her which at first seemed promising.

Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq is quite enlightening in that it shows the destruction and cost of life and health of a war from the viewpoint of a surgeon, someone who takes care of both the “enemy” and the allies. Dr. Coppola has quite the memory for detail as he wrote the entire time he spent in Iraq. The book is filled with these details whether gory or touching [his dinner at an interpreter’s home before his return to America] or frustrating. If you are at all interested in the human loss during war, Coppola: a Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq is well worth the read.

** Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq is currently available on the website. On February 1 it will be available through online and other booksellers. A partnership has been created with the not-for-profit organization War Kids Relief. NTI Upstream, will donate 10% of book sales to the Helmand Children’s Medical Fund (HCMF).
Money raised will provide medical aid to children living in Kabul’s largest internally displaced person camp. In the U.S. led effort to hunt down Taliban, many civilians have lost their homes due to bombing and violence. Thousands of families have fled Helmand Province and are currently living in makeshift camps on the outskirts of Kabul, where open defecation, lack of toilets, and poor sanitation, have accelerated the spread of disease. Currently, more than 70% of the 2,000 children living there have pneumonia.

This review is part of the Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq virtual book tour.

Book received as part of LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

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