Book Review of Phil Klay’s "Redeployment". (2014) The Penquin Press.
"Redeployment" is a collection of twelve short stories written by a former U.S. Marine, graduate of Dartmouth College, and Hunter College Master of Fine Arts program in New York City. He is a warrior through and through, but he is also a gifted writer and artist, a unique and talented combination, the only combination that could create such a powerful volume that has spoken to so many and garnered the coveted National Book Award. Each essay is written from a different narrative voice, including the grunt, the Foreign Service Officer, the mortuary affairs specialist, the JAG officer, the chaplain. The various stories will move the reader to tears, take one’s breath away, give pause to reflect, cause bursts of laughter, as well as many, many head nods in recognition of common experiences shared by those who have been there or who have been connected to the military through family or loved ones.
Each chapter contains a separate storyline, distinct from each of the other chapters in location, characters, and context. The opening chapter, “Redeployment”, brilliantly tells the story of a Marine infantryman coming home from war. “FRAGO” portrays the complex emotions and behaviors of a young private after his squad discovers and rescues Iraqi torture victims. “Prayer in the Furnace” raises moral and theological questions from the perspective of a U.S. Navy Roman Catholic chaplain struggling to understand and be of assistance to his young Marines. “Unless it’s a Sucking Chest Wound” presents the conflicts and identity challenges of a Marine officer returned to civilian life and the projections ordinary civilians place on him as “a Marine”. “Psychological Operations” deftly and creatively presents the complex interactions between an Army soldier turned liberal arts college student and a female Muslim convert in his freshman class. “OIF” is essentially an expose of the acronym laden military, where there is an acronym for nearly everything and an entire chapter can be written in such “language”. Critical reviews harp on the overuse of acronyms in the book, but the author clearly intends to do this in the “OIF” chapter as a way of displaying how essential it is to “speak acronym” in the military. It is deeply embedded in the culture. The acronym title of the chapter itself gives the intent away. If the uninitiated reader finds it confusing then the author has succeeded in his aim to illustrate that it is indeed like a foreign language. In “Ten Kliks South” the narrator is an artilleryman who is stuck in a curious fascination with killing and in his questioning tangle wanders into the mortuary seeking answers. These are just a smattering of the story lines this author compiles together to comprise his award winning book, "Redeployment."
Perhaps one of the author’s greatest gifts is his depiction of military culture right down to the minutia, and from the minutia out again to expose the broader overarching themes, conflicts, complexities, and contradictions inherent in the military, in deployment, in war, and in trauma. These range from the act of killing right down to the way some have perfected the use of cc’s on email to communicate power, and back out again to the politics of war. His writing presents multi-faceted, multi-layered perspectives, in plain-spoken language. Without overtly being a commentary, he succeeds in creating a commentary on the common and uncommon in war and in man, as a skilled observer of the human condition.
This book is not merely stories of war written by a warrior. He is a creative writer, one who has studied and labored to create words of art that move the soul to deeper understanding and validate the experiences of so many veterans who have been right there with him in the crucible of war. Reading Redeployment has the potential to be a cathartic experience for the reader, validating, evocative, reminiscent. It is sure to be a classic.
(This review is based solely the opinion of the reviewer and not intended to reflect the position of CDP, HJF, USUHS, or the DoD)
Diana. D. Bartle, Psy.D. is a Deployment Behavioral Health Psychologist for the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at Naval Medical Center San Diego.