Thursday, July 24, 2014

History Corner / Book Review- Fives and Twenty Fives by Michael Pitre

Disclosure / Disclaimer: I received this product, free of charge, from Bloomsbury Press, via NetGalley, for review purposes on this blog. No other compensation, monetary or in kind, has been received or implied for this post. Nor was I told how to post about it

Sometimes you read the title of a book, and you get chills.

Call it premonition. Instinct. Allure of a great cover matching the title.

Whatever you want. 

The important thing is that you can NOT put it down. It is in your hand and it is leaving with you. 

Your pulse may be accelerating with the awareness of a book that is about to change how you think and/or feel. You tingle with the anticipation.

Meet the book that is just all of that and a 100 times more,
and the MUST read of the year:

(Releases August 26th)

Fives and twenty fives- It’s the rule, PERIOD. Always watch your fives and twenty-fives. 

Listen to any veteran of the Iraqi war (conflict, whatever you want to call it), and you will hear this phrase. Having been raised in the military, I knew in a breath that with this title, this book would be different- raw and honest Maybe too honest. But by the title, I knew it was a book that would speak of what has not been said, of what is breathed upon lightly and kept hidden in many ways.

You see, our nation learned a lot from Vietnam, and the ill treatment of our returning servicemen and women. But a central theme of history repeated itself with Iraq- we sent our young men into an a country they were unfamiliar with, whose way of life was far removed from what most were aware of, and they returned unable to outwardly express all that they had seen and done. Yes, there were more outlets and assistance available, but the veterans found it hard to explain to a 'civilian' what was acceptable and a norm in their time afield, that now missing, makes them feel like the proverbial fish out of water.

Nothing is as it seems. They check their fives and twenty fives still. Maybe no longer consciously, but it is still there. The training is hard set as a life survival skill, ingrained and part of their core. Why is it necessary?When a convoy halts to investigate something suspicious, like litter that doesn't move as it should in the breeze, aka a possible roadside bomb, they stay in their vehicle and scan five meters in every direction. They are checking for potential bombers in the area, ready to set off the bomb, as the vehicle approaches. For you see, a bomb inside five meters cuts through the armor, of the vehicle, even a tank,. killing everyone in the vehicle. Period. If the fives are clear, only then do they get out and sweep twenty-five meters, before they can continue. A bomb inside twenty-five meters kills those checking the twenty fives, the road ahead, but those in the vehicle are safe. And we wonder why returning service men and women were skittish at times? As Pitre says in this book- when something is missing, it heightens your awareness even more to what could be wrong. 

By telling a fictionalized story of a Marine road repair platoon dispatched to fill potholes on the highways of Iraq, Pitre shares the experience that not only he had, but most of the servicemen and women who were in Iraq had. The fictional platoon works to assure safe passage for citizens and military personnel. Their mission lacks the glory of the infantry, but in a war where every pothole contains a hidden bomb, even simple road repair brings a very real danger. Pitre allows the reader to meet the members of the platoon at different times, to see their backgrounds and their interactions with each other. They are young, human, and could be your brother or sister. And that is the key of this novel. The subtle nuances that make you, the reader, care for each character, as you realize who their real life counterpart could be in your own life. 

The focus of the tale is told from Lieutenant Donavan's perspective, as he leads his platoon, painfully aware of his shortcomings (college boy, no experience) and isolated by his rank from his platoon in many ways (it's always hard having to be the one making the not happily received orders). As Donavan matures through his experience, and with helpful guidance from his platoon, Doc Pleasant, the medic, looses his way, as he watches friends die. The rise and fall of each swings a pendulum that the reader knows will not have a happy ending, as war never does, but that will keep you from being able to put the book down. 

Pitre builds his characters, as one would a family, and all families have secrets they keep from one another. Holding the biggest secret is Kateb, known to the Americans as Dodge, an Iraqi interpreter, who joins the platoon, after a horrific incident. His is a secret that can render everything for vain. But will it? Can he change a course of events he has no control of, as he watches valiant men and women doing their best, with those who are just serving time and could care nothing for his country or its people. 

Told in flashbacks with the present, the story shows how the platoon members returned home, try to face how decisions and repercussions in Iraq affected them and others, and struggle to find a place in a world that they know, but doesn't truly know them. I think this is where the books shines the most light - to make the reader understand that while the veterans may be here in America, their mindset will always be partially in Iraq. When presented with a survival moment, their training will return, and not always in a preferred 'civilized' way. Simple things like fireworks can set off flashbacks and PTSD symptoms, that are hard for 'civilians' to understand. Because my Dad suffers still from his traumatic experience in Vietnam, and friends suffer from those in Iraq, I am more sensitive to how something totally inane can set off a unexpected reaction. But most people aren't familiar, and this book shares the bitter and reluctant truths of the military experience, and the ongoing emotional and psychological trauma that can fester and explode.

Many people who will read this novel will cite it as a cause for not supporting war, and wishing to not repeat the experience yet again. To put an end to loosing our young men. Those are the people who are missing the point of the book. 

Yes, I wish our cousins had not lost their lives in Iraq. But they accepted the risk and went knowing they were going for the right reasons: honor, loyalty and service. The hallmarks of military service. That is what this book is about. For no matter the right or the wrong, this book is a tale of brotherhood in arms and the human will. It is a tale of the brutal honesty of human emotion and perseverance. You will not forget this book, not the valiance of the men and women who served for our country. It is a tale of the heart, not the mind, and every American should read it to truly understand the meaning of the word 'service'.

Semper fidelis!

About the Author:

Michael Pitre was born into a close-knit Cajun family in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana. After spending his early years in New Mexico and West Texas, he finished high school in suburban New Orleans and completed a double major in History and creative writing at LSU. Though he'd planned to become a teacher following graduation, the events of September 2001 spurred him to joined the Marine Corps. He became a communications officer, deployed to Iraq in 2006 and 2007, and attained the rank of captain before leaving the Marines in 2010. He lives in New Orleans with his wife.

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