War is one of the few great literary topics. Since Homer immortalized
the Trojan War 3,000 years ago, legions of writers have been glorifying,
lamenting, dissecting, and parodying the soldier's life. So, can the world
really bear yet another soldier's memoir? If the reception Anthony Swofford
received last year for his Gulf War memoir is any indication, the answer
is an unqualified yes. Only time will confirm or deny the early enthusiasm
of reviewers, but if they got it right, Jarhead will remain in
print for decades to come. This is not only because it is the best chronicle
yet written about the soldier's life near the turn of the third millennium.
But also because Anthony Swofford, like only the very best writers, is
able to draw his readers into the particular conundrums, thrills, terrors,
and absurdities of his experiences in the Persian Gulf and make us feel
they are our own. Farley, Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
Anthony Swofford's Jarhead
is the first Gulf War memoir by a frontline infantry marine, and it is a searing, unforgettable narrative.
When the marines -- or "jarheads," as they call themselves -- were sent in 1990 to Saudi Arabia to fight the Iraqis, Swofford was there, with a hundred-pound pack on his shoulders and a sniper's rifle in his hands. It was one misery upon another. He lived in sand for six months, his girlfriend back home betrayed him for a scrawny hotel clerk, he was punished by boredom and fear, he considered suicide, he pulled a gun on one of his fellow marines, and he was shot at by both Iraqis and Americans. At the end of the war, Swofford hiked for miles through a landscape of incinerated Iraqi soldiers and later was nearly killed in a booby-trapped Iraqi bunker.
Swofford weaves this experience of war with vivid accounts of boot camp (which included physical abuse by his drill instructor), reflections on the mythos of the marines, and remembrances of battles with lovers and family. As engagement with the Iraqis draws closer, he is forced to consider what it is to be an American, a soldier, a son of a soldier, and a man.
Unlike the real-time print and television coverage of the Gulf War, which was highly scripted by the Pentagon, Swofford's account subverts the conventional wisdom that U.S. military interventions are now merely surgical insertions of superior forces that result in few American casualties. Jarhead insists we remember the Americans who are in fact wounded or killed, the fields of smoking enemy corpses left behind, and the continuing difficulty that American soldiers have reentering civilian life.
A harrowing yet inspiring portrait of a tormented consciousness struggling for inner peace, Jarhead will elbow for room on that short shelf of American war classics that includes Philip Caputo's A Rumor of War and Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, and be admired not only for the raw beauty of its prose but also for the depth of its pained heart.
"By turns profane and lyrical, swaggering and ruminative, Jarhead...is not only the most powerful memoir to emerge thus far from
the last gulf war, but also a searing contribution to the literature of
combat, a book that combines the black humor of Catch-22 with the savagery
of Full Metal Jacket and the visceral detail of The Things They Carried." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Jarhead is not only a work of reportage from a 'privileged' observer. It is also a display of genuine talent." Martin Amis
"This is not a pretty memoir but veined with beauty. It is as outrageous, irreverent, funny, and obscene as an Aristophanes comedy, and as rich in pain and moral understanding as the Iliad." Jonathan Shay
"This is a book that smokes and screams in your hands. With a sniper's cold and unforgiving eye, Swofford has found the nexus between nihilism and language, a language ripped, homegrown, American-made, trashy and lyrical and bold. He hits the troubling, difficult mark again and again in this remarkable memoir. Brash, honest, and most unnerving, Jarhead delivers corsucating and unpleasant truths about war and warriors." Joy Williams
"Anthony Swofford's Gulf War memoir, Jarhead, could hardly be more timely. But the author, who served as a Marine sniper in Desert Storm, has wisely avoided virtually every nod toward direct commentary on current politics and every cliché of battlefield memoir....Jarhead emerges as a scary, detailed, well-written indictment of life in the military." Marc Herman, Mother Jones
"Jarhead is some kind of classic, a bracing memoir of the 1991 Persian Gulf war that will go down with the best books ever written about military life." Mark Bowden, New York Times Book Review
"A witty, profane, down-in-the-sand account of the war many only know from CNN....With blunt language and bittersweet humor, [Swofford] vividly recounts the worrying, drinking, joking, lusting and just plain sitting around that his troop endured while wondering if they would ever put their deadly skills to use." Publishers Weekly
"There are varieties of pain in Jarhead
, submerged beneath the terrors of battle and the pangs of a rotten crotch, so exquisite they'd do a torturer proud. The biographical information on the book's jacket flap explains that Swofford attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and it's easy to imagine him there, this guy who read The Iliad
during breaks in weapons training. I can picture him striving to make a new, better life that transcends the 'loneliness and poverty of spirit' of his jarhead adventures, while surrounded by fresh-faced, unscarred young aspirants who envy him his fabulous, fabulous material." Laura Miller, Salon.com
(read the entire Salon review
"Yes, there have been many, many books about combat in the Gulf War, but none as beautifully written or as ferocious as Jarhead
. Anthony Swofford's account of his life on the front lines is so honest and uncompromising as to be brutal." Adrienne Miller, Esquire
(read the entire Esquire review
When the Marines or "jarheads" as they call themselves are sent to Saudi Arabia to fight the Iraqis, Swofford is there, with a hundred-pound pack on his shoulders and a sniper's rifle in his hands. It's one misery upon another. He lives in sand for six months, his girlfriend back home betrays him for a scrawny hotel clerk, he is punished by boredom and fear, he considers suicide, he pulls a gun on one of his fellow soldiers, and he is shot at by the Iraqis and by another unit of the U.S. military. At the end of the war, Swofford hikes for miles through a landscape of incinerated Iraqi soldiers and later is nearly killed in a booby-trapped Iraqi bunker.
In this powerful memoir, Swofford weaves his war experience with vivid accounts of boot camp, reflections on the mythos of the Marines, and remembrances of battles with lovers and family. As war draws closer, he is forced to consider what it is to be an American, a soldier, a son of a soldier, and a man.
A harrowing yet inspiring portrait of a tormented consciousness struggling for reconciliation and inner peace, Jarhead is authentic, revelatory, and brilliantly crafted.
About the Author
Anthony Swofford served in a U.S. Marine Corps Surveillance and Target Acquisition/Scout-Sniper platoon during the Gulf War. After the war, he was educated at American River College; the University of California, Davis; and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. He has taught at the University of Iowa and Lewis and Clark College. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New York Times, Harper's, Men's Journal, The Iowa Review, and other publications. A Michener-Copernicus Fellowship recipient, he lives in New York.