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Timothy J. Bazzett
- Publié sur Amazon.com
As horrific, ill-planned and misguided as the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may have been, they have, in spite of themselves, yielded a bumper crop of beautifully written books. Two such books, both memoirs from combat veterans, that immediately come to mind are Benjamin Busch's Dust to Dust: A Memoir and Brian Castner's The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows. To those books I will now add Brian Turner's moving memoir, MY LIFE AS A FOREIGN COUNTRY.
Busch's book moved effortlessly between memories of his combat experiences in Iraq and his childhood. Ironically, of the latter time, the former Marine begins his narrative with, "I was not allowed to have a gun." Later he tells us, "There is something to be said about being dust. It is where we are all headed." There is a telling matter-of-factness in Busch's treatment of death and its inevitability.
Castner, haunted by his harrowing experiences as a bomb disposal specialist with the Air Force, tells us calmly from the outset: "The first thing you should know about me is that I'm crazy."
In his own memoir, Turner tells us: "Sgt. Turner is dead." And he thinks of himself, alternately, as a drone and its operator-pilot, flying over hostile territory, photo-mapping and gathering intelligence.
Death, insanity, and, again, death. These are hardly surprising themes in books that deal with war and its aftermath. Like Busch and Castner before him, Turner maps the landscape of war, both external and internal, assesses the damage, and meditates on its consequences. Words are his medium.
Brian Turner has already published two critically acclaimed volumes of war poetry, Here, Bullet and Phantom Noise. This time using prose, he continues to try to understand what he did in war, and what it did to him. He also tries to put his army service (seven years) into the larger context of a family with a military tradition, giving us graphic glimpses of a father who flew intelligence-gathering missions during the Cold War, an uncle who fought in Vietnam, a grandfather who fought with the Marines in the South Pacific during WWII, and others, all the way back to the Civil War. Struggling to explain, he says -
"I signed the paper and joined the infantry for reasons I won't tell you, and for reasons I will." And then, after listing possible reasons, he concludes, "I joined the infantry because I knew, even then, that most of what I've just said is total bulls**t, or that it really won't answer a thing."
But regardless of why he joined, Turner still struggles with what he saw and what he did during his tour in and around Mosul, Iraq. Things like manning a turret gun on convoy duty and firing at civilian cars that came too close or tried to force their way into the column. Or setting up a security perimeter around an Iraqi police station.
"This is where sixteen Iraqi policemen stood on the sidewalk in one moment, vanished in the next. A forearm still attached to a hand, a wedding band shining on a finger. Dust. A strange and momentary silence ... There is a mustache, alone, on a sidewalk."
Home on leave, Turner feels ashamed at feeling so relieved to be in America, safe, and thinks himself a coward for such feelings. And after his discharge he travels, to numerous foreign countries, many of them scenes of wars, still looking for answers. Even in bed with his wife, he is plagued by hallucinatory nightmares of the war and its victims.
"My wife and I make love in sheets the color of rare wine. As we kiss and roll over in bed ... a nurse wheels a shallow-breathing veteran into our bedroom - a man with pellets from a shotgun lodged in his brain, the surgeons following behind and standing over his gurney, whispering how they might proceed ... And they wait for us to finish making love ... The surgeons whispering over their critical patients. The dead in their bathtubs. The dead with their mouths given to foam. The dead strung from ropes under cones of light."
Death and insanity - constants of war. In that eerie opening image - dreaming of himself as a drone, Turner says -
"Each night I do this ... I bank and turn, gathering circuit by circuit the necessary intelligence, all that I have done, all that we have done ..."
"All that we have done" indeed. And yet the wars go on and on. Brian Turner's MY LIFE AS A FOREIGN COUNTRY is an important addition to the literature of war, bleakly beautiful and profoundly disturbing. I give it my highest recommendation.
- Tim Bazzett, author of the Cold War memoir, SOLDIER BOY: AT PLAY IN THE ASA
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- Publié sur Amazon.com
I’ve never been to war, nor have any of my family, after the generation of my father and uncles. The country I live in has never been occupied, other than by a brief stint of Japan in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. I’ve always been grateful for that good fortune, but in an abstract way, until Brian Turner brought war home to me in My Life as a Foreign Country.
Turner calls his book a memoir but it takes that genre into a whole new territory. He is a poet and that burnished and economical use of language is what shapes his narrative. It’s a song, a meditation, a violent introspection, a reporting of stories that are close to unbearable. That’s what this man carries with him; that’s what every combat veteran has as his legacy of battle, and that’s My Life as a Foreign Country brings to us.
The universality of war, through place and time, is made clear through the terse 203-page volume, with stories of generations of soldiers in Turner’s own family, and in Cambodia, England, Bosnia, Antietam, Guam, Saigon, and Iraq. He shows a multitude of people of all ages, who carry a world of war in their heads, a world that is untranslatable to the rest of us who have never been there. Then he uses art as a common language that will blow our comfortable universes wide open.
Tight portraits and essays and fragments of conversations that are frequently obscene, nightmares and dreams of love that is made on clean, domestic sheets, reenactments of acts of war told in the voice of a poet-warrior—Turner reaches back into the realm of classical epics to shape his modern counterpart.
“The soldiers enter the house, the soldiers enter the house.”
And in less than four pages, Turner takes his readers along on that entry, and he changes their lives with maybe as many as a thousand words. Nobody can read that 49th essay and ever look at a veteran or a “war movie,” or a television news clip of an occupied area in the same way ever again.
Standing with Brian Turner and his brigade at Fort Lewis, Washington, listening to a Colonel read the names of “those who did not come back,” realizing he omitted the name of “a young man from New Jersey who wrote poetry and wanted to become a lawyer one day,” who had sat in a Port-O-Let in Mosul and “put six rounds through the top of his skull,” you understand why a soldier in line suddenly “locked up his knees and passed out, instantly pissing his pants.” You see this New Jersey boy’s body with the other dead soldiers, “wind blowing through them, as through a flute.”
"How does anyone leave a war behind them, no matter what war it is, and somehow walk into the rest of his life?" Brian Turner’s reply to his own question echoes through his book, which should be read and reread by all of us who have been sheltered and have never paid the price for that.