Monday, January 11, 2010

Two takes on war

First two books of 2010: a nonfiction view of life in the US Army--Love My Rifle More Than You by Kayla Williams--and a fictional view on the last few moments of John Kipling's life--Kipling's Choice by Geert Spillebeen.

Love My Rifle More Than You ... I've been trying to write this review for a couple of hours now, but it's coming out like crap. Saying I liked it feels wrong, and I don't know that you can like a book like this.

It's not a likable book. It's a demanding book. It's a hard book. It's a challenging book. It dares you to acknowledge things, issues, problems and then deal with them. It wasn't an easy book. Still, I think I liked it.

From the prologue:
A woman soldier has to toughen herself up. Not just for the enemy, for battle, or for her death. I mean toughen herself up to spend months awash in a sea of nervy, hyped-up guys who, when they're not thinking about getting killed, are thinking about getting laid. Their eyes on you all the time, your breasts, your ass--like there is nothing else to watch, no sun, no river, no desert, no mortars at night.
And her story just runs from there.

My back went up a few times, not because of Kayla's actions--OK, sometimes her actions, but more the situations she found herself in while in Iraq. I couldn't help but picture myself in those situations, trying to understand how I would have dealt with them. I honestly don't know what I would have done.


I linked to Colleen's review of Kipling's Choice above because her review was the reason I read this book. I really don't know much about Rudyard Kipling--I watched The Jungle Book cartoon, but that's about it--but a few months ago I happened upon a line from one of his poems and I decided it was time to read more.

As I understand, Rudyard Kipling desperately wanted to serve in the Navy, but couldn't because of his horrible eyesight. Despite all of his future successes, this failure would haunt him throughout his life. His son, John, had the same problems with his eyes, but at this point Rudyard had enough clout to get his son into the Irish Guards as a second lieutenant. Untried, untrained, and just days after his eighteenth birthday, John dies in a ditch somewhere, body destroyed by poison gas and mortar, his family left without word of his fate.

Kipling's Choice moves from the moments leading up to John's death to the days, weeks, months, and even years that lead him to that point. It's skillfully done, with John flashing back and forth, moving from moments spent with Daddo to letters home to tearing around the country side to leading him men into battle to lying flat on his back, bleeding, to smiling at a pretty girl, to letters home, to his days at school hunting ghosts to letters from his father.

The story's written incredibly well, in my opinion, both detailed, well-researched, and interesting. I've gone from knowing very little about Rudyard Kipling and his family to knowing a bit more and eager to read more.

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