Army of Shadows
All Quiet on the Western Front
by Erich Maria Remarque
translation by A. W. Wheen
$16.60 List Price
I READ ONLY ONE WAR NOVEL while I was writing my own. There were reasons: I didn’t want to hear another novelist’s voice as I was trying to find my own way into a soldier’s mind. Also, my book is about a marine coming home from Iraq, and every war has its own weather and terrain, its own equipment and language. I didn’t want details from a different war in my head, and I couldn’t read novels about the Iraq war, because none, by then, had been written.
War writing follows a sequence: first reportage, then memoirs. For years, that’s all there is. Novelists are always last: Ten years after the invasion, the first novels about the Iraq war appeared. Fiction is ruminative, emerging slowly from experience, like water seeping upward to a spring.
My own book was engendered by an account in the New York Times about our troops on the ground in Iraq, about unarmored Humvees, IEDs, and TBIs. It told of the military’s reluctance to diagnose brain injuries, because treatment was expensive, and would mean removing combatants from the field. All this troubled me. The story stayed in my mind, taking more and more space, until I realized that it would become a book.
I knew nothing about war—I’m a Quaker—and I needed a universe of information. I read every first-person narrative I could find from Iraq. I read blogs by soldiers in Ramadi and Hit and Falluja. On YouTube I watched marine dance contests and family homecomings. I watched firefights, shot by soldiers with baby cams on their helmets. I interviewed every vet I could find. I listened to their stories. And I asked them about