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Baghdad Express: A Gulf War Memoirby Joel Turnipseed
Synopses & Reviews
In early summer of 1990, Joel Turnipseed was homeless — kicked out of his college's philosophy program, dumped by his girlfriend. He had been AWOL from his Marine Corps Reserve unit for more than three months, spending his days hanging out in coffee shops reading Plato and Thoreau.
Then Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
Turnipseed's unit was activated for service in Operation Desert Shield. By January of '91, he was in Saudi Arabia driving tractor-trailers for the Sixth Motor Transport Battalion — the legendary "Baghdad Express." The greatest logistical operation in Marine Corps history, the Baghdad Express hauled truckloads of explosives and ammunition across hundreds of miles of desert. But on the brink of war, Turnipseed's greatest struggles are still within. Armed with an M-16 and a seabag full of philosophy books, he is a wise-ass misfit, an ironic observer with a keen eye for vivid detail, a rebellious Marine alive to the moral ambiguity of his life and his situation.
Developed from Turnipseed's 1997 article for GQ, this innovative memoir — simultaneously terrifying and hilarious, equal parts Catch-22 and Catcher in the Rye — explores both the absurdities of war and the necessity of accepting our flawed world of shadows. With expansive humanity and profane grace, Turnipseed finds the real-world answers to his philosophical questions and reaches the hardest peace for any young man to achieve — with himself.
"[A] coming-of-age story with all the right ingredients: self-deprecation, wit, insight, irony and a lucid, enthusiastic writing style. The Marine who emerges at war's end is older and wiser...and a pretty good writer to boot." Publishers Weekly
"For all his philosophical bent, Turnipseed primarily works the surface of events, which is where we want to be to gather the immediacy, the chaos and insanity of it all." Kirkus Reviews
"[Turnipseed] writes evocatively....If you want a clear-eyed sense of what might be going on today in the staging areas surrounding Iraq, a view stripped of cant, hypocrisy and the bloated lies of officialdom, read Baghdad Express." Malcolm Jones, Newsweek
"Turnipseed seizes on the ordinary and brings it to life the way Tom Waits can make a song out of a plate of hash browns....This is a rough-and-tumble journey to self-awareness — sometimes poignant and sometimes funny. It's worth the ride." Sarah T. Williams, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Although well written and funny at times, this memoir fails to provide the insights readers will be looking for to understand a second Gulf War." Library Journal
"A deeply felt account of an exile's passage across the back office landscape of modern war. Turnipseed is a lucid, passionate, and oddball observer with an extraordinary ear for vernacular speech and a deft and understated prose style. His book is the best dispatch so far from the Middle East desert battleground." Alec Wilkinson, author of My Mentor: A Young Man's Friendship with William Maxwell and Big Sugar: Seasons in the Cane Fields of Florida
"Baghdad Express manages — remarkably — to keep us there in the moment (1990-91) with the author's scared, smartassed and likably philosophic self, even as it exercises the controlling perspective of the older-and-wiser (if still young) man now telling the story. Despite its profane good humor, the book has less in common with most modern American war memoirs than with prose works produced by the sensitive British soldier-poets of the First World War. And yet, for all that, the author has created something entirely unto itself. Joel Turnipseed was never a natural Marine; but he's a writer, for sure." Thomas Mallon, author of Henry and Clara and Two Moons
"An edgy, street-talking trip into the often inane realities of 'high-tech' contemporary warfare. Turnipseed gives us an invaluable tale of war as it is, reckless and semi-insane. Americans, in our perilous times, should be paying attention — reading this book, this vivid story about getting to the far side of triumph." William Kittredge, author of The Nature of Generosity and Southwest Homelands
"This is a wonderfully timely book. Baghdad Express is well-written, very up to date, and in many ways an amazing tour de force." Robert Bly, author of The Night Abraham Called to the Stars and Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems
"This is the rarest of war memoirs — an account of the unglamorous, written with laugh-out-loud dialogue, that also reminds us why philosophy matters. Turnipseed has rubbed the jewelry of our philosophic heritage across the touchstone of war and shown which proves true gold and which a shining fraud. He and his Marine comrades in Desert Storm, black and white, deserve our honor and thanks." Jonathan Shay, author of Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character and Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming
Baghdad Express tells what the first Gulf War was actually like on the ground and behind the scenes. A smart-talking, philosophy-reading misfit in the Marines' Sixth Motor Transport Battalion — the legendary "Baghdad Express" — Joel Turnipseed is an unlikely jarhead, an ironic observer with a keen eye for vivid detail, and a rebellious Marine alive to the moral ambiguities of his life and his situation.
A first-hand look at what the first Gulf War was actually like on the ground and behind the scenes.
About the Author
Joel Turnipseed served in Operation Desert Shield/Storm in the Sixth Motor Transport Battalion of the United States Marine Corps during the 1990?91 Persian Gulf War. Turnipseed has been a Bread Loaf Scholar, a Writer-in-Residence at The Loft, and a recipient of a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship.
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