MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewAfghanistan is rendered less as a country and more as a dreamscape ... Too many of the stories lean heavily on unconventional form to create intrigue, a reliance that can come at the expense of substance ... At times Kochai relies disappointingly on caricature ... What unites the stories in Kochai’s collection is that they’re similarly haunted.
MixedThe Washington PostThis investigation, which animates much of Roston’s book, seems misguided ... Ultimately, Roston is happy to leave the question of Vonnegut’s PTSD unresolved, and this is one of the great strokes of the book, because he leaves open a trenchant bit of commentary not only on Vonnegut but on all of us. Roston wrote his book primarily in 2020, amid the pandemic, societal unrest and profound political dysfunction. Given PTSD’s broadening usage and definition, it could be said that it has become a diagnosis for everyone, and so Roston also shows us how — PTSD diagnosis or not — his hero Vonnegut succeeded in writing a book for everybody, one that remains unstuck in time.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewNicholas Schmidle’s remarkable account of the commercial space program, Test Gods: Virgin Galactic and the Making of a Modern Astronaut, is a book that adeptly jumps between our celestial aspirations and our human, earthbound limitations ... The first third of the book provides a riveting account of the underreported commercial space race, which has up until now lacked a worthy storyteller ... where this book truly shines, where it feels singular, is not in the how but in the why ... We go to space because of what’s on earth — our communities, our families, our children and the perpetuation of humanity. This, it seems, is one of the conclusions Schmidle reaches in his deeply reported and deeply personal book. It is a masterly work, a reminder of what should inspire us all.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... as much a meditation on time and memory as it is a book about war ... These themes sound weighty, but the novel carries them lightly. Abdoh skillfully captures combat’s intrinsic absurdity ... For many Americans, the conflicts in Syria and Iraq have become abstractions, separated from our lives by geographic as well as psychic boundaries. Abdoh collapses these boundaries, presenting a disjointed reality in which war and everyday life are inextricably entwined ... The novel arrives at...wisdom by shining a brilliant, feverish light on the nature of not only modern war but all war, and even of life itself.
Javier Cercas, Trans. by Anne McLean
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Cercas tells a story...of reportage through which the dead walk with all the vibrancy of the living ... As the book progresses, Mr. Cercas weaves together his themes so that the endless search for home and the seemingly endless aftereffects of the war become one and the same. He bridges with equal skill the gulf between the dead and the living. But why does he go to such great lengths to piece together his great-uncle’s final days? Was Mena better off among the dead, with the gallant portrait of him and the rumors of a hero’s death all that remained? This is the central question of the book. And it is also the central question for so many who have survived war to return home and, after struggling to reintegrate to normal life, are left wondering if it might have been better not to return at all.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThis forward projection of the men [O\'Brien\'s] sons might become is a moving act of artistry—a bit like the magic he performs for his sons’ enjoyment ... Although the conceit behind the title is understandable, it reads slightly treacly and, ultimately, belies both the scope and quality of the writing contained within. But if at times the writing tends toward the sentimental, Mr. O’Brien explains, \'What if your truest sentence is a sentimental one? Do you fancy it up? Do you sober it up? Do you chill it with literary ice?\' ... Mr. O’Brien doesn’t pander; and why should he? It wouldn’t shock me to learn that he’d designed the book’s homely faux-denim-blue cover himself. Much of what he writes is equally unfashionable in our strident age ... This writing about his family feels closest to the bone. It fills an important void in understanding his work, or at least in understanding how Mr. O’Brien thinks about his work. If this does, in fact, prove to be the last thing he writes, it is a touching conclusion to a literary career that has left us with a shelf of enduring novels, memoirs and short stories. Mr. O’Brien, like Hemingway, didn’t necessarily write about war as much as something larger: our shared humanity.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewVerini, who covered the battle for The New York Times Magazine and National Geographic, has written not only a deeply human account of the conflict but also a fascinating historical investigation of Mosul itself ... Verini is a skilled observer of combat ... His descriptions are sharp, as of \'the last-word metallic clangor\' of heavy machine guns; and how, in an effort to appear less threatening to communities, \'soldiers had wedged bouquets of pink plastic flowers into the bullet holes in the windscreens of their Humvees\' ... Toward the end of Verini is presented with the daunting question of what comes next, and questions his own complicity in the disaster that he has witnessed.
Matt Farwell and Michael Ames
RaveThe Washington Post...compelling ... In American Cipher, Farwell and Ames tell Bergdahl’s story alongside a history of the Afghan war. A deft move, as it is impossible to understand Bergdahl’s actions outside a deeper contextualization of that conflict, with its many contradictions ... If Bergdahl suffered the delusion of believing he could become a savior by solving a crisis of his own making, the case is artfully made in American Cipher that America itself is a schizotypal, that we became lost in our own fantasies for Afghanistan, in which we could deliver the Afghan people from a crisis we created ... the specific facts of Bergdahl’s case are elevated to the allegorical, and this is where Farwell and Ames’s storytelling really shines ... Farwell and Ames convincingly show that so many of the reasons we’ve been fighting in Afghanistan for 18 years—bureaucratic inertia, partisan dysfunction, domestic indifference—are the same reasons that, even when Bergdahl’s captors eagerly hoped to broker his release, it took so long to recover him.
Khaled Khalifa Trans. by Leri Price
RaveThe New York Times Book Review\"... masterly ... That’s the power of mass violence: its ability to transform specific loss into general loss, numbing our collective consciousness. This is why novelists like Khalifa are so critical in these times. They give us a story, and stories are specific ... Many fine American writers have claimed the mantle of Faulkner’s successor through their chronicling of life in the South. But Faulkner wasn’t writing only about the South. He was writing about civil war, too. With Death Is Hard Work, Khaled Khalifa has, intentionally or not, also laid claim to that title.\
RaveThe Wall Street JournalWar narratives usually fall somewhere on a spectrum between elegiac and ironic, and “Cherry” certainly skews ironic. Mr. Walker achieves this effect in the way he mixes registers, switching quickly between the slangy or ultra-simple and the literary or vaguely bureaucratic ... the humor in the book is a sort of anti-humor; it is deadpan in the extreme ... One of the chief pleasures of Mr. Walker’s writing is how it shies away from pretension, both stylistically and thematically, yielding memorable descriptions ... Mr. Walker’s crisp observations draw us in, so that we happily follow the narrator through the war, through his seedy life in sex and drugs, until he’s eventually robbing banks. There are no tricks in the writing, no striving for meaning on every page when there is not much more to relate than the drug-hunger that consumes an addict’s life. The book is wonderfully direct ... a bracingly original novel.
C J Chivers
RaveThe Washington PostI was hesitant to pick up The Fighters ... What a mistake that would have been. This book is remarkable ... The Fighters belongs alongside those volumes, but it achieves its own broad scope by relying on the more intimate canvas of individual experience ... Chivers doesn’t shy away from the moral complexity of volunteerism. What does it say about us that we chose to fight? Chivers gives the thrill of combat and its horror equal time ... a memorial in pages.