A soldier remembers his sister’s life through their correspondence.
Giannetti lost his beloved sister, Marisa, to breast cancer in 1996. This slim debut memoir features a collection of their letters over a nine-year period, beginning in 1987, during which he served in the military. The author enrolled in the Army’s delayed-entry program at the age of 17, about seven months in advance of his high school graduation. He was anxious to leave Parsippany, New Jersey, behind and explore the world, even if that meant a pit stop at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. After a grueling experience in basic training, he returned to New Jersey to attend county college, but his wanderlust persisted, and he eventually enlisted in the Army full time, and was sent to Germany. Most of the letters included in the book are from Giannetti to Marisa, and they largely recount the kinds of adventures readers would expect a soldier stationed abroad to have: foreign girlfriends, raucous nights out on the town, and short jaunts to Paris, Rome, and Switzerland. Giannetti also provides astute insight into the quotidian aspects of military life, which quickly turned dramatic as rumors of impending war circulated after Iraq invaded Kuwait, and he was eventually sent to the Middle East. The author and his sister clearly have a tight bond, which is most evident when they discuss their romantic travails and ultimately their marriages. In October 1995, Marisa was diagnosed with breast cancer, and Giannetti’s account of the phone call with her is heartbreaking: “The wheels were falling off. I had to write my sister. I wanted to tell her honestly how I felt about what she was going through. I felt my eyes water as I started to write.” The author’s recollection is an endearingly sentimental one, studded with old pictures, quotes from popular songs, and poems. The letters are interspersed with commentary helpfully explaining the context within which they were written, composed in a casual, anecdotal style. Besides the discussion of the Gulf War, there isn’t much historical substance here that transcends the author’s personal experiences, and so this memoir will likely be of greatest interest to Marisa’s family and friends. Nevertheless, this is a touching homage to a loved one lost too early.
A brother’s affecting reflection on his relationship with his sister.