I just finished reading the first novel by Iraq war veteran Michael Petre. It is the fictional story of a combat engineering group of US Marines in the Iraq war: Their leader, a young medic, a bad-ass but very competent female sergeant, and an extremely well spoke bilingual Iraqi interpreter (or “terp”) who works alongside them. It’s a truly fine first novel that touches into the souls of all involved. I want to share a few thoughts and to urge you to read it.
I have never been in the military. I’ve never been in a combat zone. But after reading this book I feel like I could have been. If you have ever tried to understand why an Iraq war vet doesn’t think you’ll understand how she or he feels; if you’ve ever met a vet who acts differently than you’d expect, if you’ve ever questioned whether a woman can hold her own in combat, if you’ve ever thought that only the American side of the Iraq war story is the one you care about, if you’ve ever felt good about saving American lives while killing Iraqis, if you’ve ever though that the war in Iraq was easy to understand, then for these and many more reason’s you MUST read this book.
Fives and Twenty-Fives is not a perfectly written novel. It has a relatively simple structure and sometimes a lack of sophistication and nuance. But it is an extremely strong first novel. More importantly, any tinge of immaturity in the writing is far and away offset by the extraordinary story, the emotional impact of every single character, and the deep truths the book reveals.I was stunned and overwhelmed by the stories of the diverse characters. Each has a finely honed backstory as well as a surprising depth of emotional life.
One thing that I loved about this book is that, although it’s written from a very American perspective, it is pretty unbiased. It does not try to simplify or “play down” the effect of the war on Iraqi men, women, and children. Even those who are our enemies are portrayed with real human emotion, compassion, and respect. As for those Iraqi’s who worked side-by-side the Americans, this book candidly portrays their conflicts and struggles.
This may not be one of those books that our successors will read 100 years from now. But for we who watched a 13 year war against an unpredictable enemy from the sidelines, the book is a must read..