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2.0 out of 5 stars The Diary of Anthony Swofford, Aged 13 and Three-Quarters, 25 May 2014
This review is from: Jarhead: A Solder's Story of Modern War (Paperback)
'Jarhead' is one of those books that was momentarily famous before fading into obscurity. Such was its popularity with readers and with critics that the film directed by Sam Mendes was almost inevitable. Operation Iraqi Freedom, as it came to be known, dominated the media. Mr Swofford's memoir reminded readers of the trials faced in its predecessor.

I became interested in the two Gulf Wars by watching 'Generation Kill', a miniseries by HBO. Based on a work of reportage by Evan Wright, the series chronicles the activities of US Marines in Iraq. One of the featured Marines, a lieutenant called Nathanael Fick, wrote a review decrying 'Jarhead' as the work of a poor serviceman. Having read the book, I understand why.

Swofford makes it clear that he despises the Marine Corps. He feels no affection for his compatriots, for the cause, or for the dead. 'Jarhead' delivers the tale of Swofford's service in a non-linear fashion, flitting between his actions in 'the Suck' and his behaviour back in the States. (Swofford spent much of his time at home in bars and in fistfights.)

As a civilian, I cannot comment on the horrors of war. As a former Marine, Swofford can't either. One of the running jokes of the book is that Swofford and his unit train for a war that never happens. In the British Army, there is a popular maxim: 'hurry up and wait', which Swofford could have used as a subtitle. What then is the source of the author's suffering?

Much of the memoir manages to describe the boredom of the Marines. Lack of stimulation leads to rising paranoia with regard to friends and family. Most of the Marines believe that wives and girlfriends are sleeping around. Chapter after chapter of the book reveal that men on the front line are losing their grip on sanity. After a while, the repetition bored me. This is a fatal flaw.

Whatever message Mr Swofford meant to convey about the brutality of war is lost in the minutiae. He could have easily reduced 'Jarhead' to a couple of articles. Instead, he delivers a rambling, anti-grammatical rant that tests the reader's patience. One could argue that introspection is essential to literary work, but a keen editor could have saved this book from the author's narcissism.

In summary, 'Jarhead' is an adolescent account of one man's demons. Vignettes that touch upon his time in Iraq are not enough to recommend this book. As a trained writer, Swofford should know that purple prose does not a work of genius make. I would watch the film (at most), or read 'Generation Kill' instead.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 4 Aug 2014 19:07:52 BDT
Obelix says:
Thanks for recommending Generation Kill, but your review - and attitude - stinks.

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Nov 2014 20:01:12 GMT
If I may ask, how does my attitude stink?
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