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Brave Deeds by David Abrams

BOTTOM LINE: SO well done but such a tough read

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publication Date: 1 August 2017
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“From Fobbit author David Abrams, Brave Deeds is a compelling novel of war, brotherhood, and America. Spanning eight hours, the novel follows a squad of six AWOL soldiers as they attempt to cross war-torn Baghdad on foot to attend the funeral of their leader, Staff Sergeant Rafe Morgan. Cut off from all communication with their company headquarters back on the base, they find themselves struggling to survive in an inhospitable landscape. As the men make their way to the funeral, they recall the most ancient of warriors while portraying a cross section of twenty-first-century America—sometimes strong, sometimes weak, but subject to the same human flaws as all of us.

Drew is reliable in the field but unfaithful at home. Cheever, overweight and whining, is a friend to no one—least of all himself. Specialist Olijandro, or O, is distracted by dangerous romantic thoughts of his ex-wife. Fish’s propensity for violence is what drew him to the military and could be a catalyst for the day’s events. Park is the quiet one, but his quick thinking may make him the day’s hero. And platoon commander Dmitri “Arrow” Arogapoulos is stalwart, yet troubled with questions about his own identity and sexuality. As the six march across Baghdad, their complicated histories, hopes, and fears are told in a chorus of voices that merge into a powerful portrait of the modern war zone and the deepest concerns of us all, military and civilian alike. Moving, thoughtful, funny, and smart, Brave Deeds is a gripping story of combat and perseverance, and an important addition to the oeuvre of contemporary war fiction.”

My Thoughts: I am going to apologize to Mr. Abrams right now because there is no way I will ever be able to do Brave Deeds justice in this review. This “day in the life” story reminds me of The Things They Carried. It has a similar feel to it in the short, vignette-like chapters that bounce from soldier to soldier, past, and present. One of the reasons it is so powerful is that the U.S. still has soldiers in the Middle East; these six soldiers could be your brother, son, husband, father right now. It is a sobering thought while reading.

What Brave Deeds does more than anything is to show how young our soldiers are and how they are not heroes. They are simply six men who are doing their job in an unbearable situation. The death of their leader is the proverbial straw on the camel’s back. They are not attempting any sort of heroism. They are not hoping to make a statement or inspire policy changes through their temporary desertion. They just want to say good-bye to the one person in the military they felt cared about them as individuals.

How they get into the dangerous predicament of having to hump it all over Baghdad is rather comical if it were not also so frightening. Their gaffes show their humanity and confirm that they are not professional soldiers. Mr. Abrams does a great job showing how ingrained their training is, which serves them well as they cross the city on foot, but they are young and each distracted by his own thoughts and desires. The mistakes they do make end because of their youth and because of the natural distractions that come about because of their youth are understandable even as they end up having lasting repercussions not just them on them but for the Iraqi citizens as well.

The six soldiers harbor no doubts as to the dangers they face with every step further into the city. Nor do they harbor doubts as to their own lack of heroism. True, there is an innate machismo they exude due to their training and their weapons and their camaraderie, but as we see into the minds of each of them and get to know them, we understand that they are nothing more than frightened young men trying to find comfort among the danger. These men encompass the gamut of society and are a great example of the melting pot that is the military.

Mr. Abrams’ writing is superb. Sparse and powerful, it establishes the tone of the novel so well that readers feel the same sense of danger, fear, and urgency as the soldiers do. You can feel the intense heat rise from the pages as you march behind them on their way to the funeral. Every shadow mentioned, every figure they pass on the street, every blind corner they must turn fills you with a sense of dread. It is an intense experience, made all the more so because you find yourself caring about the men. They may not be perfect, in fact one or two are downright nasty, but you get behind their cause and cheer them on their journey. The overwhelming concern as to the eventual success of their mission fuels your reading experience with suspense and dread, and you come away feeling a greater appreciation for and sympathy with all soldiers everywhere. Brave Deeds is an impressive tour de force that gives a proper voice to modern soldiers all over the world just trying to do their job and survive.

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