The rule of most writing — the shorter, the better — appears not to apply to Klay’s nonfiction. The half-dozen longest, meatiest and most probing essays and articles presented here share the lasting power of Klay’s acclaimed fiction. They were published separately, in different places over a decade-plus span. But read together they amount to an interwoven, evolving and revealing examination of Klay’s central topic: What it means for a country always at war, that so few of its people do the fighting ... The best of these essays combine reporting, with Klay’s observations from his own military service, with historical evidence and spiritual reflections ... It is engrossing and important, and I hope readers will start with the longest parts first.
Each of these pieces...is presented here as an independent struggle to find meaning on its own terms. Still, there is a sense of progression from one to the next. Klay is certainly no fan of the war machine — nor is he a pacifist — but he proves too wise a writer to fall for the trap of prescribing what others should think or feel about American military action. Instead, early essays in which he asks himself how he should feel about his experiences set the stage for bigger ideas ... Klay’s warnings against neatly packaged explanations can risk sounding obvious, though the keenness of his observations is unmatched ... Though these pieces were written over several years, reading them together positions them into an inevitable conversation with one another. Leitmotifs emerge through repetition of stories and images ... Reading it all together is a little like watching a stand-up comic work through the same jokes on different nights; the brilliance of the feat is both deepened and dampened in the repetition. The illusion of spontaneity is lost ... The author hybridizes many forms of nonfiction to explore questions people have been asking about war for centuries ... With this collection, Klay transcends his self-description as “a writer who was once a Marine and writes about war” to become more of a philosopher. He uses war to pose urgent questions about political identity and personal faith that will endure long after the narratives of recent conflicts get revised and their terminology fades into history.
... solidifies Mr. Klay’s place among the best of an increasing number of writers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and, while recounting their experiences in combat realistically and unheroically, raise profound questions about the nature of contemporary warfare ... Mr. Klay served in Iraq during the Bush administration’s 2007 troop surge. He provides a town-level view of what worked and what didn’t: He notes that overwhelming force could be remarkably effective in subduing terrorists and securing villages but that it couldn’t transform the daily lives of Iraqis or make them feel safe in their own communities. Rather than viewing conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan as a series of engagements in which the side with the best weapons wins, Mr. Klay argues that, for the individual soldier and generally for American troops fighting on foreign ground, victory depends on 'weaving yourself into a web of relationships in such a way that those around you begin making choices that take your wants and desires into account.' Building such ties is easier said than done.
With care, Klay addresses questions of faith, guilt, and collective trauma, offering insights into military culture and the meaning of masculinity ... Klay has written an important and eye-opening essay collection that should be a must-read.
Compelling themes emerge from the first page ... In each essay, Klay’s distinctive ideas expose cracks in the ostensibly glossy but unmistakably fragile veneer of our culture ... Klay’s reassuring voice offers truth, hope, and ways forward during a challenging, polarized period in America.
A tightly focused collection of essays ... Klay's prose is precise, measured and often rueful. He avoids any grand prescriptions for reconciling a conflict that remains even as the last American soldiers have been withdrawn from Afghanistan. Thoughtful readers will come away from this book with a clearer understanding of where the U.S. has fallen short of its ideals since 9/11 and of at least some of the questions its citizens should be asking about the country's current and future military missions.