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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning piece of work
It is through the filter of art, rather than terse, academic accounts, that history increasingly gets judged. Facts may blur and the truth warp through re-telling, like in Chinese whispers, but that is how the past is received, down the passage of time. As sports pundits often quip, ‘…the winners laugh, and the losers make their own plans.’ Quite...
Published 3 months ago by TAMIM SADIKALI

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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
Reading the cover blurb you'd think this was to be a modern classic of war literature. It isn't Two of the stories are good: Money as a Weapons System, about a civilian official trying to push through reconstruction work, and Prayer in the Furnace, about a conflicted military chaplain, Others are clunky (War Stories), some over-long and frankly tedious (Psychological...
Published 5 months ago by David Gladwell


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning piece of work, 10 Jun 2014
This review is from: Redeployment (Kindle Edition)
It is through the filter of art, rather than terse, academic accounts, that history increasingly gets judged. Facts may blur and the truth warp through re-telling, like in Chinese whispers, but that is how the past is received, down the passage of time. As sports pundits often quip, ‘…the winners laugh, and the losers make their own plans.’ Quite.

It is admittedly with such reservations that I picked up Redeployment, a collection of short stories by Phil Klay, on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan – as seen through the eyes of the American soldier. And within the first two pages I had my preconceptions – my prejudices – reinforced:

‘…I hear O’Leary go, “Jesus”, and there’s a skinny brown dog lapping up blood the same way he’d lap up water from a bowl. It wasn’t American blood, but still, there’s that dog, lapping it up.’

Part of me – the Pavlovian part – jumped up, ‘…so here it is, the world divided into two, neat categories – American and non-American.’ But of course, that’s rubbish – the author is simply communicating the mindset of the man at war, who, quite sensibly, reduces an equation of mind-numbing complexity down to two, simple parts: friend or foe. But then…

‘…you see the body parts in the locker and the retarded guy in the cage. He squawked like a chicken. His head was shrunk down to a coconut. It takes you a while to remember Doc saying they’d shot mercury into his skull, and then it still doesn’t make sense.’

That one can mention, in passing, that a mentally disabled man somehow ended up in a cage and had mercury injected into his skull, before swiftly picking up the exposition of one’s personal ennui, is an open-sesame onto a whole other review. For this review, though, I must firstly make clear that Redeployment is vividly – and brilliantly – written. Indeed, there are many levels at which to enjoy this work. At the most basic, if you want to experience the ‘thrill’ of the front line, the energy and intensity of mortal combat, this work will not disappoint. Indeed it is quite possibly without equal, in offering that vicarious pleasure. The author puts you right in the boots of a US Marine – the reader requires no leap of imagination to see, hear, smell and taste the situation.

The first short – which, consciously or otherwise, bears a resemblance to ‘The Pugilist at Rest’, by Thom Jones – captures the shredded mental state of the soldier, returning home from war. From the staccato, hop-scotch, disjointed threads, to the coarse soldier’s vernacular – it is written with breath-taking skill. The dialogue throughout is full of military acronyms – DFAC, PFC, TQ BOS,… – some of which you get and some you don’t, but it doesn’t matter – it creates a surround-sound, fully immersing the reader in that world. I particularly loved that the characters – individual soldiers – were not described. No-one was pinned down as black, white, Hispanic, short, tall, a bespectacled introvert or a muscular bragger – but through their words alone, they were fully realised. Indeed it is a masterclass in storytelling, through dialogue. Furthermore, it deserves mentioning that the collection does not comprise some all-pervading, testosterone-fuelled ‘war porn’ – there is surprising variegation, depth, change of pace, even introspection.

Redeployment is, without doubt, an arresting piece of work, written by a fresh, perceptive and immensely talented new author. My only reservation is not about the stories per se, but rather their wider milieu – that a book on, say, the emotional scars carried by German soldiers in WWII would seem bizarre; offensive, even. But meditations on the psychic harm done to American soldiers, from Vietnam through to Iraq and beyond, feels right, and important, and necessary. But that, perhaps, is best left for another review…
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Crueler than their circumstance, 19 Aug 2014
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This review is from: Redeployment (Kindle Edition)
A dozen often bleak and brutal stories carry an authentic ring based on the author’s first-hand experience as a marine in Iraq. Although it is deliberate in the case of “OIF”, some are too cluttered with military acronyms, either meaningless or distracting if you pause to work them out or look them up. Others which focus on the fighting have nowhere to go after ramming home the way young soldiers are trained as unquestioning killing machines, kept in this state by psychopathic officers, then swear, take drugs and get drunk to blunt their fear, guilt and confusion.

What held me more were the issues raised by the “redeployment” of the title : how these men might deal with the return to “normal” life and communicate with non-combatants.

The brilliant opening story, “Redeployment”, describes with great clarity and insight a young man’s sensations on returning home from a seven month stint in Iraq. Having been trained to function at an “orange” level of alert all the time, he cannot adjust at first to a world of people “who’ve spent their whole lives on white”. He cannot cope with walking down the high street alone, rather than in a line of men, each detailed to scan ahead at a different level: tops of buildings, lower windows or at street level. “You startle ten times checking” for the gun that is no longer there. By the end of the trip, the man is too “amped up” to drive. “I would have gone at a hundred miles an hour.”

In “War Stories”, a young man whose face has been hideously scarred agrees to be interviewed by a chilly young actress “with a splinter of ice in her heart” who wants to use his experiences for a play. She is only interested in the drama of his injury, so never discovers his pragmatic decision, being unlikely to “pull” a girl like her, to give his undamaged sperm to a bank, so that his genes can be passed on in a new life. “I’ll have some baby out there. Some little Jenks. Won’t be called Jenks, but I can't have everything, can I?”

I also recommend “Prayer in a Furnace” where a sensitive and well-intentioned chaplain’s faith is unequal to dealing with the horror which a cynical young soldier confesses to him, and “Psychological Operations” which explores the complex emotions of an American of Coptic Egyptian origins who, because of his assumed knowledge of Arabic, is sent to deliver propaganda which involves insulting Iraqi extremists to goad them into coming out to die under fire.

Less harrowing than the other stories, but chilling beneath its humour is, “Money as a weapons system” in which an idealistic man sent out on a “Provincial Reconstruction Team” learns painful lessons over the extent of corruption, tribal division and American ignorance which bedevil any serious attempt to rebuild the country.

I don’t know how cathartic is was for Phil Klay to write this, but it would be a mistake to “write these stories off” as the scripts for yet another violent war film – into which they could well be twisted. Most of them provide salutary lessons on the folly of ill-prepared engagement in Iraq.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply terrific, 2 Jun 2014
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This review is from: Redeployment (Hardcover)
A beautifully written book about the war in Iraq, full of humanity. Highly recommended to all. Can't wait to read more by him.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Storytelling, 27 April 2014
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This review is from: Redeployment (Kindle Edition)
Authentic and very moving. What is it, about War, that it brings out the best and the worst and (still) remains one of the major experiences that bring us face to face with the deepest moral issues? I treasure this collection and have recommended it to many others.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Better than Yellow Birds, 9 May 2014
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This review is from: Redeployment (Hardcover)
I've found Redeployment a well written, wit, collection of stories. It's a book that I will cherish and I will recommend.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 31 Aug 2014
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A demanding work of a daring writer
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A clear new voice, 18 April 2014
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This review is from: Redeployment (Kindle Edition)
There's been some decent literature emerging from America's war in Iraq: Ben Fountain's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk; Kevin Powers's The Yellow Birds. Redeployment is at least as strong a new voice. Klay - a former Marine - makes no allowance for civilians, you are dropped straight into a terse military world of acronym, slang and understatement. There is humour, yes, but what stays with you is the utter futility of the conflict and the desperate harm done to those involved. More US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan have now died at their own hands, than at the hands of the enemy. Klay's book brings that appalling statistic grippingly to life.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars gritty, real and profound, 11 May 2014
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This review is from: Redeployment (Kindle Edition)
This story has moments of horror and profanity as well as gritty realism and passages of profound transcendence and universal truth.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 16 April 2014
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This review is from: Redeployment (Hardcover)
Reading the cover blurb you'd think this was to be a modern classic of war literature. It isn't Two of the stories are good: Money as a Weapons System, about a civilian official trying to push through reconstruction work, and Prayer in the Furnace, about a conflicted military chaplain, Others are clunky (War Stories), some over-long and frankly tedious (Psychological Operations). The combat stories are like an American war movie, sound and fury and acronyms.
If you want to read about combat, read Tolstoy's The Sebastopol Sketches, Arkady Babchenko's One Soldier's War in Chechnya, Guy Sajer's The Forgotten Soldier, or Patrick Hennessey's The Junior Officers' Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars, all brilliantly written and deeply moving. For a civilian perspective on reconstructing Iraq, read Rory Stewart's Occupational Hazards: My Time Governing in Iraq.
Leave this one on on the shelf.
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Redeployment
Redeployment by Phil Klay (Hardcover - 27 Mar 2014)
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