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Shade It Black: Death and After in Iraqby Jessica Goodell
I first heard Jessica Goodell's haunting voice on NPR and immediately knew I had to read her book. Goodell served in the Marines in Iraq in the Mortuary Affairs Unit and was responsible for retrieving and organizing the remains and personal effects of fallen soldiers. By far the most sensitively written war memoir I have ever read, her story stayed with me for weeks after I read the last page. Goodell covers the horrors of her particularly gruesome assignment and her attempts to reintegrate to life back home. It's rare that we are allowed a glimpse into the culture of the Marines from the perspective of a female soldier, and rarer still to learn what really happens after soldiers are killed in combat.
Synopses & Reviews
In 2008, CBS's Chief Foreign Correspondent, Lara Logan, candidly speculated about the human side of the war in Iraq: Tell me the last time you saw the body of a dead American soldier. What does that look like? Who in America knows what that looks like? Because I know what that looks like, and I feel responsible for the fact that no one else does... Logan's query raised some important yet ignored questions: How did the remains of American service men and women get from the dusty roads of Fallujah to the flag-covered coffins at Dover Air Force Base? And what does the gathering of those remains tell us about the nature of modern warfare and about ourselves? These questions are the focus of Jess Goodell's story, Shade it Black: Death and After in Iraq.
Jess enlisted in the Marines immediately after graduating from high school in 2001, and in 2004 she volunteered to serve in the Marine Corps' first officially declared Mortuary Affairs unit in Iraq. Her platoon was tasked with recovering and processing the remains of fallen soldiers.
With sensitivity and insight, Jess describes her job retrieving and examining the remains of fellow soldiers lost in combat in Iraq, and the psychological intricacy of coping with their fates, as well as her own. Death assumed many forms during the war, and the challenge of maintaining one's own humanity could be difficult. Responsible for diagramming the outlines of the fallen, if a part was missing she was instructed to shade it black. This insightful memoir also describes the difficulties faced by these Marines when they transition from a life characterized by self-sacrifice to a civilian existence marked very often by self-absorption. In sharing with us the story of her own journey, Goodell also helps us to better understand how PTSD affects female veterans. With the assistance of John Hearn, she has written one of the most unique accounts of America's current wars overseas yet seen.
"In this absorbing memoir, Iraq veteran Goodell recounts her service, the brutal, sexist culture of the Marine Corps, and her struggle to adapt to the world upon her return from Iraq. After enlisting, Goodell volunteered to serve with the Marines' first declared Mortuary Attachment in Iraq's Al Anbar province, in 2004. The Mortuary Attachment platoon was responsible for doing 'what had to be done but that no one wanted to know about': they 'processed' the bodies of U.S. and other soldiers killed in combat, so that they could be identified and returned to their families. She describes in gruesome detail what this involved, and how it affects the soldiers who care for their comrades in this way. She rubbed up against a Marine Corp culture that includes routine indignities (calling an unfit Marine a 'fat nasty' or worse), outright misogyny ('Don't even...tell me that's a woman. Get...out of my formation!'), and sexist marching cadences. Coming home, unable to gain weight or sleep or relax and unprepared for post-service life among a population that had no idea of who she was or what she had gone through, Goodell began to come apart. Her memoir is a courageous settling of accounts, and a very good read. (May)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Shade It Black is a powerful, direct and honest account of one Marine's experiences in Iraq. It is a story of trauma and struggle, but also of integrity and ultimately growth. For me, the twin themes of trauma and post-traumatic growth in this book recalled Somerset Maugham's classic, The Razor's Edge." W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, University of Georgia
"In this absorbing memoir, Iraq veteran Goodell recounts her service, the brutal, sexist culture of the Marine Corps, and her struggle to adapt to the world upon her return from Iraq....Her memoir is a courageous settling of accounts, and a very good read." Publishers Weekly
"A searingly honest account of what it's like to be a female Marine at war working the grim job of collecting the remains of the dead. Jess Goodell, the Marine, and John Hearn, her co-writer, have written this book with beauty, strength and courage. Above all, the book makes us face the truth of how war destroys us, inside and out." Helen Benedict, author of The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq
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