In Hajdu’s (The Spirit of Palm Springs, 2005, etc.) latest novel, the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq is told by the men and women of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division.
“April 9, 2003, was the day Baghdad fell,” Hajdu writes, “yet the war wasn’t over; the most difficult part of the job was still ahead and total victory years away.” It is now known that the invasion of Iraq, lasting only 21 days, failed to predict the challenges Allied forces would encounter during the formation of a new Iraqi government. In addition to the occupation of Iraq and the anxieties of combat, Hajdu focuses on the American home front. For example, Pvt. Jake Nevitzky, in Iraq, and his father, Harry, in a U.S. hospital, struggle to maintain communication after Harry suffers a stroke and attempts to regain his short-term memory. Meanwhile, in Iraq, Cpl. Levente Laszlo is taken prisoner during an ambush and interrogated by Ahmed al Libya, a Western-educated Iraqi soldier. Also in Iraq, Jake and his boyhood friend David Johnson serve together in the 3rd Infantry Division. Three years after the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, they travel home to Phoenix, Arizona, from their second tour. “The young soldiers were treated like rock stars,” Hajdu writes. “People came up to them, thanking [them] for their service, and they didn’t have to walk over to the USO lounge to find hospitability; at the bar, the free drinks were flowing.” Later, however, David’s mother confides in Jake that her son is suffering from depression. Emotionally unavailable, David must learn to coexist with the horrific memories of war without destroying himself. Ultimately, Hajdu illuminates the soldiers’ returns to society without relying on sentimentality or over-the-top patriotism. Romance between Sgt. Mario Alvarado and embedded reporter Dana Jensen, for instance, acts as a narrative thread woven throughout the book, emphasizing the vulnerability and desires of combatants and noncombatants alike. In the end, no matter how traumatic the experience of war and the trials of everyday life, hope exists while life endures.
A gripping narrative that explores the consequences of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the camaraderie and perseverance of America’s veterans.