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Book Review: Redeployment by Phil Klay

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Redeployment is a collection of short stories about the war – particularly the US-led war in Iraq that began in 2003 – and its effects on its major players (and casualties): the civilians and the soldiers. Mostly the stories dealt with death, and if one is lucky enough to survive, the long-term effects of war, emotionally and psychologically. Hello, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).

There are 12 stories that make up the book: Redeployment, Frago, After Action Report, Bodies, OIF, Money as a Weapons System, In Vietnam They Had Whores, Prayer in the Furnace, Psychological Operations, War Stories, Unless It’s A Sucking Chest Wound, and Ten Kliks South. Except for vague recollections of particular scenes, however, I can no longer remember each story with accuracy – they were that forgettable for me. Redeployment, the first story, was about shooting stray dogs as they conduct operations in Iraq, when the narrator himself was a lover of dogs back home. There’s a story there about a veteran who was severely and physically injured after he was nearly blown off in an explosion, and because he was lucky enough to have survived, a girl wanted to interview him for a story. Another story was about a marine who wanted to confess something to their resident cleric but hesitates each time they meet. And these two latter stories are just a couple whose titles I can no longer remember. The others, I cannot recall without taking a peek at my copy.

Oh I remember. There was a story that contained nothing but military acronyms that I felt like it was the author rattling off all the existing military acronyms in the world. It was so terrible and it took a lot of effort to read because I would try to Google each acronym I encounter, for context, until after a couple of pages, I gave up. Here’s a snippet (the story is called Frago and yes, I checked my copy):

HUMINT says the place is an IED factory filled with some bad motherfucking hajjis, including one pretty high up on the BOLO list. SALUTE report says there’s a fire team-sized element armed with AKs, RPKs, RPGs, maybe a Dragunow.

Another one:

After that, there’s not much left to do but hit the DFAC. We’re on a FOB, might as well get that good chow while we can. My guys deserve it. Maybe they need it. Besides, everyone says TQ’s got the best chow hall in Anbar, and soon we’ll be back in the COP.

Now excuse me if I am unfamiliar with military or army jargon, but I would think that a writer should never presume that all his readers would know the meaning of these acronyms, especially since it doesn’t appear that he wrote this for a specific audience only. It was tedious to look up what each acronym stands for and looking for context clues did not work most of the time. Sure, AKs and RPKs and RPGs most likely stand for weapons, based on context clues, but what about “DFAC”? “TQ”? “HUMINT”? Am I presumed to know what these are?

Months later, and I still don’t know what these acronyms mean. Why should I bother?

*

It was touching and at the same time disturbing to read about the dangers to which the marines/soldiers are exposed every time they are deployed to some war-stricken country. The injuries (and/or deaths) and especially the psychological trauma are scars that they will forever bear. But let’s also not forget the innocent bystanders, especially the children, who can no longer lead normal, happy lives because of the war. The wives and families who get left behind – they, too, stand to suffer, the fates of their husbands and fathers and sons thrown out into the wind. On this score, I appreciated this novel, but then again, perhaps I could have just read about it in other well-written, well-thought out works on war.

And I still cannot fully grasp that this book prevailed over Station Eleven in the most recent National Book Awards.

Rating: 2/5
Review originally published in marginalia.

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4 Responses to “Book Review: Redeployment by Phil Klay”

  1. bennardfajardo

    I actually asked him about “Frago” when I met him and whether he’s concerned with people not understanding the story due to its excessive use of military jargon. He said that it was meant to be confusing and he meant to show that the military is entirely a different culture with its own language. It’s no surprise that this is his most divisive story though.

    Personally, I liked ‘Frago’ but I can understand why people would hate it. This review certainly made me more interested in the collection but, as it comes from someone whose taste in books I trust, I will bump this down in my TBR.

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    • Monique

      Why did you like Frago? Are you familiar with military jargon? I ask because, of course, I didn’t like it all that much, and perhaps there is something in the story that you saw that I didn’t. I would love to hear the opinion of someone who thinks conversely as me.

      To be fair, there were stories that were worth reading but poring through the same old theme of fighting, casualties, and death eventually got to me. The excessive use of military jargon then became another handicap that prevented me from, at the very least, understanding the stories. I know there is a reason for this book winning the NBA so don’t let my slightly negative review dissuade you from reading it! I appreciate that you think of my reviews that way, though. Should you read this book, I’d love to know your thoughts. :)

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    • bennardfajardo

      Well, I know a bit of military jargon because some of the pop culture that I partake in like movies, TV, and video games deal with war and the military. So “Frago” wasn’t as much of a hurdle for me.

      I tend to dislike or, at the very least, not feel warm over a short story collection with a central theme. I feel like it does inhibit the author a bit and tends to make his/her stories repetitive (Exception is Munro. She can write all the stories about the lives of women in rural Canada and I’m betting that I will love every word). I was thinking that Redeployment winning the NBA was in part due to its relevance as sometimes juries do that. I’ll probably read this in the future but not without reading Station Eleven first.

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    • Monique

      That’s it – the stories were repetitive. But then again, Klay is himself a war veteran, so what other stories would he write about than something he personally experienced? I agree, it probably won because of its relevance. But I hope the next NBA winner would be more well-rounded than this.

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