Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre

Main characters:  Marines Pete Donovan and Lester Pleasant, and Iraqui interpreter Dodge
Location: New Orleans and Iraq
Time period:  2006
Genre:  Adult Fiction, War Fiction

Fives and Twenty-Fives follows three men who were brought together by the war in Iraq, focusing not just on their time of service, but afterwards as they struggle to fit back in to civilian life.

Lieutenant Pete Donovan was a college man from Alabama before the war.  As a lieutenant, he seemed easy-going and content to allow his sergeants to handle the day to day running of his command.  Their role was road repair, which sounds a bit boring--filling potholes out in the brutal desert heat--but each pothole could, and often did, hide a bomb or trigger an ambush.  Pete has been awarded a bronze star for heroism, but he is uncomfortable with the label "hero" or even "sir."

Lester "Doc" Pleasant was from Cajun country in Louisiana before joining the Marines and becoming a corpsman, the first to administer aid in case any in his squad are wounded or injury.  He is deeply affected when he is prevented from running out to help a marine that badly wounded in an ambush.  The Lieutenant tells him that the man is already dead, but Doc is convinced that he saw him roll over.  Soon Doc is heading down a spiral of drug abuse which leads to him being discharged from the Marines.

Dodge is the Iraqui interpreter.  Dodge is, obviously, not his real name, which the military hides to protect him and his family from reprisals.  What Dodge does not tell anyone is that his father and his brother are much more likely to be the ones performing reprisals.  He wants to run from Iraq, from his family, and head to Syria, or Jordan, or anywhere there isn't war and he can resume his studies.  After his time with the Marines, he makes his way to Tunisia where he becomes a witness to the birth of the Arab Spring.

The author is a former Marine captain who served in Iraq and there is a strong feeling of authenticity through the book.  While reading it, I was reminded of the great World War II novels of Jim Jones, like From Here to Eternity and The Thin Red Line, or of movies like The Best Years of Their Lives and The Big Red One.  The emphasis is not on the battles but on the men and their relationships.  The structure of the novel--using current events to frame flashbacks--keeps propelling the story forward.  You keep getting hints that something big happened and you have to keep turning the pages to discover what that was.  (I was reading while waiting for a doctor's appointment and actually resented being called in because I wanted to keep reading.)

There is a well-crafted section where Pete is in a group of other officers and trying to have a serious conversation with one person while another man in the background is telling a story.  The way Pitre writes this section lets you clearly follow both conversations.  It's the sort of scene that would be so easy to do in a movie or TV but is very difficult in writing.

Pitre says in his forward that one of the things he wanted to do in this book was to show the suffering of the Iraqui people.  I think one of the saddest sections was where Dodge was talking about how he didn't have friends.  If you have friends, you have people.  And if you have people then there is a weapon that can be used against you.  So he denies himself from forming relations.  But though this is what he might say and what he might believe, he can't help getting entangled with others.

I very much enjoyed this book and would recommend it highly to everyone, even if you don't think you like stories about war.

I received this book as an e-ARC from NetGalley.

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