I don't typically read nonfiction, as I'm sure I've mentioned in the past, and this particular book--The Good Soldiers by David Finkel--fell into my lap via a freelance project. I was excited when it did though because I know I'm not the most well-versed person in current events. I know bits and pieces here and there, usually enough to hold a relatively intelligent conversation, but details? No way do I know those. I also have a tendency to shy away from military-related topics for a variety of reasons, both political and personal. So, I took the opportunity to force myself to confront my discomfort.
The Good Soldiers is a memoir by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Finkel, chronicling his time spent with a U.S. Army batallion in Iraq during the early months of the surge. Finkel takes readers inside the 15-month deployment of the 2-16 (Second Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment of the Fourth Infantry Brigade Combat Team, First Infantry Division) by sparing no detail, no matter how vivid or grotesque. Readers get to know Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich (right, on his return home to his family) and his soldiers as they were stationed in one of the most violent areas of Iraq, in the city of Rustimiya.
Published by Sarah Critchon Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, in September 2009, Finkel's memoir stunned reviewers. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review saying, "Finkel’s keen firsthand reportage, its grit and impact only heightened by the literary polish of his prose, gives us one of the best accounts yet of the American experience in Iraq." Kirkus also gave it a starred review calling the memoir "excellent study of soldiers under fire" and "A superb account of the burdens soldiers bear."
Even The New York Times Book Review was wowed:
Finkel brilliantly captures the terrors of ordinary men enduring extraordinary circumstances. [...] [a] ferociously reported, darkly humorous and spellbinding book. [...] Finkel has made art out of a defining moment in history. You will be able to take this book down from the shelf years from now and say: This is what happened. This is what it felt like. [...] Finkel expertly captures the soldiers’ fear, giddiness and courage. [...] He gives unforgettable voice to the men who fought and lived — and to those who did not — and whose voices we otherwise might not have heard.
I highly recommend reading the entire NYT Book Review article, as it captures the book perfectly. (It also pulls some excerpts and stories from the book itself, which I don't want to relay here in case some of you don't want to partake.)
Phenomenally written, intricately researched, and vividly portrayed, the story of the 2-16 is an emotional rollercoaster filled with comradarie, terror, optimism, tears, and even laughter.My heart breaks for these young soldiers--14 of whom died during their deployment and 75 of whom received Purple Hearts for their valor--and I literally was in tears on more than one occassion as I read.
Finkel shows the struggles--and the silver linings--the soldiers had to push through before they could return home with a keen eye and fully objective viewpoint. Detaching himself completely from the narrative, Finkel gave the book up to the soldiers of the 2-16, focusing solely on their experiences, feelings, and bravery.
I am almost at a loss for how to describe The Good Soldiers. It was harrowing and powerful journey for me through this book, and I think everyone should pick up a copy--even if you don't support the war itself--because it's truly a striking and eye-opening account of the war in Iraq in Iraq, rather than the war in Iraq here in the States.
The Last Word: An intense and moving memoir that takes you into the heart of the war in Iraq and the hearts of the men and women who fight for freedom.