Two young soldiers, Private Bartle (18) and Private Murphy (21), are sent to Iraq with the same unit and stationed in Al Tafar. Immediately immersed in a bloody battle for the city, surrounded by death and destruction, they follow orders, protect each other, and do everything they can to stay alive. Responsibility becomes a key issue - exactly what are a soldier's responsibilities beyond the orders. When reading some of the battle scenes, or the scenes in the village, I could almost hear them because of Powers' exquisite description - the artillery, children in the streets, dogs barking the commander shouting orders, the cries, the Humvees engines, and the explosions. This novel is stark, beautiful and gut-wrenching.
As we find more about Private Bartle's emotional upheaval after he returns home, we see he doesn't fit in his former life. Nothing fits; nothing works, he has too much guilt, too many overwhelming memories. He can't function. We see the never-ending military machine pursue him; pursue a truth, relentless in its search for a justice that will close an official book. Bartle is swept up and away.
The novel gave me a better understanding of some of what a friend of mine who served in Iraq must have gone through. I will never know the details, but now I can see why no one comes home from a war the same. It changes everyone.
Powers is an Iraq War veteran. He served in the army in Mosul and Tal Afar. He just received his M.F.A. in poetry from the Michener School of Writing in Austin this year. This book stands up there with Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, Karl Marlantes Matterhorn and Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. I look forward to reading more of his work."