This Memorial Day weekend, it's been difficult to scan the channels on the television without bumping into war related movies. The paper each morning has had articles about parades forthcoming, or articles about Michigan soldiers that recently lost their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan, and how their families have come to realize that this holiday isn't simply about getting together for a family bbq, and even the radio, in between songs, reminds us to remember those that have served our country, and those continuing to do so today.
A few books came to my mind while I thought about the weekend and Memorial Day. This being the EWN, the books aren't going to be by Hemingway or anything like that. It's a quartet of books, all put out by independent publishers, two of which I've written about here at the EWN before and two I have not, or at least not in great detail. I think all four very well fit this particular holiday.
Homefront by Kristen J. Tsetsi was originally published by Penxhere Press in 2007. While nearly all war related fictional efforts are set smack in the middle of the war itself, or reflections of such, Tsetsi tackles those left behind. She writes of Mia, a former professor, now driving a cab, who is left behind when her boyfriend, Jake, is deployed to Iraq. Tsetsi's writing perfectly captures the psychological traumas that those waiting for scraps of news from their loved ones (as opposed to news of their loved ones) go through. There are other characters as well, in Mia's world: Jake's mother, another woman whose husband is in Iraq, and an alcoholic/regular customer that may or may not be a Vietnam War veteran, and Tsetsi shows how just like individual soldiers take different measures to handle their deployment as best they can, so do those that have watched them leave. Tsetsi has re-released this novel with a different cover than I've shown and it's available from her website, which I've linked to above, or your regular online haunts.
Matthew Eck's The Farthest Shore was published by Milkweed Editions in 2007, having won it's National Fiction Prize that year. I did a full review (4.5 stars) here. Bits and pieces from that review that still resonate with me and my memory of this great novel:
"it becomes clear that it was a conscious decision on Eck's part to not refer to a specific recent war or conflict too closely - that he was writing more about modern warfare, and to an extent, even more generally, about the day to day battles each of us encounters."
"There is this lack of moralizing throughout Eck's writing. Stantz and his men really aren't portrayed as heroes, and, in fact, at times one might even lean in the other direction."
"Where there is certainly a physical toll in being constantly on the move, carrying everything they have with them, extreme heat and lack of sleep - listening in on the conversations and thoughts of Stantz and the others, Eck makes it clear that the mental toll is even more strenuous."
World War II is the war covered in Terese Svoboda's award-winning non-fiction effort, Black Glasses Like Clark Kent (Graywolf, 2008). Somewhat similar though to Tsetsi's novel, Svoboda doesn't necessarily put her readers into the middle of combat, at least not the bullets flying type. Here is what I originally wrote back in November 2007 after finishing the galley of this book:
It is always hard for me to think that I have something to add after reading wise words from writers like Saunders of Lalami. They pretty much nail everything that is fantastic about this book and if there's a reason, maybe, to include a non U.S. solder-related book on Memorial Day, it's to remind us that soldiers on the front lines, soldiers on deployment, those family members waiting behind while their loved ones are gone, they have the same emotions, same feelings, same worries and stresses no matter where they're from.