For me though, the most involving passages in Pumpkinflowers are not about politics. They are about Mr. Friedman’s personal war stories. An infantryman’s experience of battle is invariably at odds with the official record, which is linear, vectored, clear. But a truly fine war memoir — and Pumpkinflowers is certainly one — almost always shows just how disorienting and ambiguous combat can be.
This superb book is partly a history of the war, partly a personal memoir, and partly a work of political analysis. But mainly it is an effort to tell the story of the young men who fought to defend something 'the size of a basketball court'—not all of whom survived ... Pumpkinflowers is rich enough to allow different readers to draw their own political conclusions, if they choose to draw them at all. Above all, it is a book about young men transformed by war, written by a veteran whose dazzling literary gifts gripped my attention from the first page to the last.