A flawed but unforgettable testament.



This bleak novel explores the horrendous impact of the Iraq war on women, both soldiers and civilians.

Based on research conducted for her nonfiction study of women serving in Iraq (The Lonely Soldier, 2009, etc.), Benedict’s fictional portrayal alternates the accounts of Kate, a young specialist stationed at Camp Bucca near Umm Qasr in Iraq, and Naema, a medical student whose family flees to the region after the catastrophic invasion and looting of Bagdad in 2003. Kate is one of three women in a barracks housing 33. Her worst enemies are not Iraqis (derogatorily known as hajjis) but her sergeant, Kormick, and another soldier nicknamed Boner. They sexually assault Kate (the exact nature of the assault is never revealed) on the day she is transferred to another detail, keeping watch in a guard tower overlooking the prison camp at Bucca. Shortly after Naema’s family moves in with her grandmother, American soldiers arrest her father (crippled by torture under Saddam) and preteen brother. Naema goes daily to the camp, where she encounters Kate, who bucks authority to try to get information regarding Naema’s relatives. The kindness of Kate’s comrade Jimmy is so unexpected in this snakepit of a milieu that love between the two, though it exacerbates Kate's dilemma, is inevitable. As the pressures on Kate mount (her tough, seemingly invincible bunkmate is raped by Kormick and Boner, and Kate’s attempts to file charges are laughed off), she revenges herself on the Iraqi detainees, who also single her out for torment because she is a woman. When, mistaking him for one of her prisoner-harassers, she brutalizes Naemas’ father, her spiral of self-destruction accelerates. The enormity of the problems—the woeful inadequacy of soldier’s equipment, the heat, the IEDs, the yawning gap between the mission of “liberation” and the chaos inflicted on Iraqis—that Benedict attempts to pack into such a brief space overwhelms the novel, fragmenting the storytelling into vivid but regrettably sketchy segments.

A flawed but unforgettable testament.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-56947-966-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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