Fact & Fiction: David Finkel and Roxana Robinson
Wednesday January 22, 2014
|Photo Courtesy of Joyce Ravid (Roxana Robinson)|
Roxana Robinson and David Finkel discussed their latest books, Sparta (Robinson) and Thank You For Your Service (Finkel), both of which deal with the ramifications of the Iraq War. This event was moderated by our Executive Director Noreen Tomassi.
About Sparta (Sarah Crichton Books)
The transition from peace to war can make a young man into a warrior. The transition from war to peace can destroy him.
Conrad Farrell has no family military heritage, but as a classics major at Williams College, he encountered the powerful appeal of the Marine ethic: “Semper fidelis” came straight from the ancient world, from Sparta, where every citizen doubled as a full-time soldier. When Conrad graduated he joined the Marines, to continue a long tradition of honor, courage, and commitment.
When Roxana Robinson’s new novel, Sparta, begins, Conrad has just returned home to Westchester after four years in Iraq, and he’s beginning to learn that something has changed in his landscape. Something has gone wrong, though things should be fine: He hasn’t been shot or wounded, he’s never had psychological troubles. But as he attempts to reconnect with his family and girlfriend, and to find his footing in the civilian world, he learns how difficult it is to return to the people and places he used to love. His life becomes increasingly difficult to negotiate: he can’t imagine his future, can’t recover his past, and can’t bring himself to occupy his present. As weeks turn into months, Conrad feels himself trapped in a life that’s constrictive and incomprehensible, and he fears that his growing rage will have irreparable consequences.
Suspenseful, compassionate and perceptive, Sparta captures the nuances of the unique estrangement that modern soldiers face as they attempt to rejoin the society they’ve fought for. Billy Collins has written that Roxana Robinson is “a master at…the work of excavating the truths about ourselves”; The Washington Post has called her “one of our best writers.” In Sparta, with the powerful insight and acuity that marked Cost and her earlier novels, Robinson delivers her best book yet.
“Robinson tells tales of psychic maladies with spellbinding intensity and acute insight. In Cost (2008), she explored drug addiction; here, she occupies the PTSD-assaulted mind of an Iraq War veteran. Conrad had everything going for him as the oldest child in a loving and achieving Westchester County family. Smart, handsome, poised, and enthralled by his college studies as a classics major, he decides to seek his own Sparta by joining the marines, thus shocking his ‘bookish and liberal’ parents. A kind and devoted officer, Conrad is appalled to find himself not in a noble and orderly military realm but, rather, in a morass of chaos, terror, futility, and crimes against humanity. Safely home at last, he is determined to restart his life, but all his discipline and training prove worthless in contending with searing insomnia, debilitating headaches, and ungovernable anger, fear, and hypervigilance. A war hero who now feels threatened in his boyhood bedroom, let alone on the jostling, hurrying streets of New York City, Conrad seeks treatment from the VA only to become ensnarled in another form of combat. Robinson’s diligently researched and profoundly realized tale of a warrior’s trauma and his family’s struggle to help him is a beautifully incisive, respectful, suspenseful, and indicting drama of our failure to grasp the full toll of war.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist, starred review
About Thank You For Your Service (Sarah Crichton Books)
From a MacArthur Fellow and the author of The Good Soldiers, a profound look at life after war.
The wars of the past decade have been covered by brave and talented reporters, but none has reckoned with the psychology of these wars as intimately as the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Finkel. For The Good Soldiers, his bestselling account from the front lines of Baghdad, Finkel embedded with the men of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion during the infamous “surge,” a grueling fifteen-month tour that changed them all forever. In Finkel’s hands, readers can feel what these young men were experiencing, and his harrowing story instantly became a classic in the literature of modern war.
In Thank You for Your Service, Finkel has done something even more extraordinary. Once again, he has embedded with some of the men of the 2-16—but this time he has done it at home, here in the States, after their deployments have ended. He is with them in their most intimate, painful, and hopeful moments as they try to recover, and in doing so, he creates an indelible, essential portrait of what life after war is like—not just for these soldiers, but for their wives, widows, children, and friends, and for the professionals who are truly trying, and to a great degree failing, to undo the damage that has been done.
The story Finkel tells is mesmerizing, impossible to put down. With his unparalleled ability to report a story, he climbs into the hearts and minds of those he writes about. Thank You for Your Service is an act of understanding, and it offers a more complete picture than we have ever had of these two essential questions: When we ask young men and women to go to war, what are we asking of them? And when they return, what are we thanking them for?
Roxana Robinson is the author of nine books, most recently of the novel, Sparta. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harper’s, The New York Times, Best American Short Stories, and elsewhere. She has been named a Literary Lion by the NYPL, four of her books have been chosen as New York Times Notables, and her novel, “Cost,” received the Maine Publishers and Writers Fiction Award. She has received fellowships from the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundation.
David Finkel is a journalist and author whose most recent book, the critically acclaimed Thank You For Your Service, chronicles the challenges faced by American soldiers and their families in the aftermath of war. His previous book, The Good Soldiers, was the bestselling account of the U.S. “surge” during the Iraq War and a New York Times Best Book of the Year.
An editor and writer for The Washington Post, Finkel has reported from Africa, Asia, Central America, Europe, and across the United States, and has covered wars in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
Among Finkel’s honors are a Pulitzer Prize in 2006 and a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 2012. He lives in the Washington, D.C. area.