Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Book Review: The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq by John Crawford

I broke my recent reading stalemate with The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq by John Crawford (Riverhead Hardcover, 2005).

The name attracted me to it when I was in the library looking for Young Stalin. While I couldn't find the Stalin biography, I decided to take a chance with Crawford's tale. The title seemed interesting, and I liked the movie Jarhead, so I figured this was a good bet.

I promptly fell into my reading hiatus and forgot about it until last week. When I finally picked it up, I read it in one sitting.

The title says it all, frankly. This is a tale of an accidental soldier—a man who took advantage of the National Guard's free school tuition for the price of a weekend a month. He's deployed to Iraq where he spends three years as an infantryman patrolling the streets of occupied Baghdad and collecting his stories.

Crawford's writing is simple and straightforward, the prose of a man who isn't interested in crafting a beautiful tale. Yet, there are lines of real beauty in the book as well. The story is propelled by his words and how well they fit together.

Despite the title, I feel no pity for Crawford's situation. Yes, most soldiers sign up so they can go to school, but they make the decision to take the risk and Crawford is no different. His story happens to be well-crafted, though, and worth telling. No one can really explain to you what it's like to go to war, but you can get a small sense of it when you read accounts like Crawford's.

There are moments when you can almost feel the regret in his mind, especially in the final moments of the book as he recounts his final days in Iraq. After three years of patrolling a war-torn country as an American conqueror, he is suspicious of everyone, right down to the children. He makes no attempt to hide the fact that the Iraqi people considered the occupying forces as conquerors, not saviors. So you can understand his motivation when he spots a child holding a gun. It still chills you to the bone, though. You don't know whether or not he shoots the child in the end, but he does tell the reader that the gun was merely a shell with no chance of being a threat.

It's a sad story, but there are funny parts, despite the grim subject. If you liked Jarhead, you'll like The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell.

Rating: Four Stars

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