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Review: Soldier Girls by Helen Thorpe

Reading predominantly fiction, this book was an impulse read that I picked up on a whim. The book tells the story of three women enlisted in the National Guard who describe their experiences with the military and touches upon issues of gender, their experiences with September 11th, and their reintegration into American society after deployment. Each page is filled with a mixture of historical facts (ranging from the history of the area or the political situation at the present moment) and touching moments from three women struggling to navigate their new roles and situations. We as readers are allowed into their personal moments and we are privileged to witness their personal battles whether it be infidelity, alcohol, or otherwise.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book because I lived through the time of September 11th and afterwards (even though I was very young) and it was eye opening to look back with the perspective of an adult. It was necessary for me to have the historical and political context (even though to some those might be uninteresting). While this book may not have an overall message in the typical sense (a moral of some sort) the book is a fascinating look into these women’s lives and experiences. I would also argue that they say, in comments, enlightening things about their experiences: being a woman fitting into mostly male units, an overwhelming lack of control of their situation (in terms of the military and their lives), balancing following orders and questioning their purpose during the war, intercultural difficulties, challenges reintegrating into American society (in terms of the decadent American culture and overwhelming amount of choices), and how their relationships changed both at home and during deployment. If any of these issues sound interesting to you, I would suggest you read the book. Each woman struggles with these issues in different ways, and they have varying degrees of importance, and it is fascinating to read their experiences with each.

This book touched me by presenting real stories of three women’s total experiences with war: their motivations and personal backstories, experiences during deployment, and their challenges with reintegration. I never would have been exposed to someone in my close circle of friends who has served in the military, had I now read this book, so this was an eye opening experience. There is no easy way to sum up a theme or a moral or even a lesson I learned. These are people’s lives, not created stories, and real people do not always have a simple ending or lesson learned. Overall, what I took away from reading this book, was exactly that: exposure to someone that I normally wouldn’t have met and the opportunity to learn about their lives.

 

<Note on the differences between Fiction and Nonfiction> Something worth noting is the distinction between nonfiction and fiction. As I was reading this book, I asked myself really what is the difference between them? I know in theory that nonfiction is ‘true’ while fiction is fictitious. But what I wanted to touch upon (on a slight tangent from the book) is the way in which personal narrative story telling involves a process of inherent revision. While in fiction what we read is being mediated by an author, in nonfiction what we read is still mediated by the story teller. I am in no way saying that I disbelieve the stories in this book, but it is something touched upon in the book as well. There is discrepancy between Desma and Dennis about the raising of their children. Thorpe makes special note that Dennis recalls the incident and Desma differently. This brings up an interesting theme with memoirs that is worth mentioning. Without much resolution, I thought it was worthwhile to bring up the relativity of the word truth in regards to nonfiction writing and personal narration. There is a similar reliability question when narrators in novels, fiction alike, because there is no way of checking the information: just a series of information we are presented with (a lack of objectivity). <Tangent Concluded>

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