Hugh J. Martin on The Red Book or Operation Iraqi Freedom is My Fault

Hugh and I met in Prague a hundred years ago. We're both OIF veterans and we both have the same birthdays and we were put in a suite together. This was, of course, by chance and had nothing to do with some divine power trying to bring like minds together so that they might combine their powers and use those powers to change the world for the better by writing books that they hoped young people might stumble across and learn from.

Hugh has a book of poems, The Stick Soldiers that I am a big fan of and have talked about publicly before (my review is right there on the page I linked where you can buy his book), and he is now working on a Ph. D. in Creative Nonfiction (English, really, but I know why he's there; look at the stats English departments: the students are not there to study Middle English these days.) Go buy Hugh's book. Read it. 

I appreciate Hugh taking the time to read my book of essays, a book that he played a big role in pushing me to finish. If not for him talking to me over all those PIvos in Prague, who knows what I might have been working on now?   

Here is a picture of Hugh when he was in a tank in Iraq.

Here is a picture of Hugh when he was in a tank in Iraq.

Here's what Hugh had to say about The Red Book or Operation Iraqi Freedom is My Fault:

There’s no direct connection,” Brandon Davis Jennings writes in one essay, “between the time I spent liberating Iraqis who never asked me to liberate them and my broken jaw.” Sentences like these—complicated with a dark irony, a boldness, a measured self-deprecation—ring, memorably, throughout his incredible collection, The Red Book (or Operation Iraqi Freedom is My Fault), and navigate the often blurred boundaries between public and private life, especially in wars which, for Americans, mostly take place on screens. Jennings establishes a voice here—sometimes moving between second and even third person—that’s freshly distinct, unstoppably arresting. His sentences, often kinetic and full of character, sometimes carry a hyperbolic humor which, immediately, ingratiate us to their speaker: “I was in Saudi Arabia before Operation Iraqi Freedom began,” he writes in another essay, “so you can blame me for everything.” Although the explicit irony in a line like this is obvious, what’s not, I think, is the deeper, more subtle effect this seemingly straightforward declaration creates: an ambivalence—a good thing—where the reader is not sure whether to laugh or cry. This ambivalence, a kind of wavering, is one of the many strengths of this collection and shows a speaker who, wisely and beautifully, is self-reflexive, doubtful, uncertain, trying to reach closures related to personal and private memories and traumas though, more often than not, struggling and searching, as we all do. Jennings pushes far beyond tidy tropes and bromides related to topics such as war, soldiering, masculinity, sexual abuse, adolescence, among other things. Most of all, at his core, Jennings is a master storyteller. These are stories where one soldier breaks another soldier’s foot so he “wouldn’t have to go to the desert.” Stories where Jennings sits in Okinawa on a roof with a radio, and lots of rebar, as he guards satellites while imagining the many ways “Terror wants to kill Airman Jennings.” Stories where, while in Saudi Arabia, surrounded by thousands of Peeps marshmallow chicks sent in care packages, Jennings must “pulverize” top secret documents. Jennings elides, and sometimes—to our benefit—shatters many well-worn, often simplistic ideas about war, soldiering, boyhood; he develops an essayistic panorama from lived experience through a voice which is, to a reader, intimate, tangible, and, most of all, devastatingly and wonderfully human. “Airman Jennings is not one man,” he writes, “nor an army of one. He’s just a boy with a radio—and some rebar.” This is one of the most important and powerful essay collections in our post-9/11 America.
— Hugh J. Martin, author of The Stick Soldiers