The Red Book or Operation Iraqi Freedom is My Fault



Praise for The Red Book or Operation Iraqi Freedom is My Fault.

"Jennings is brilliant at the art of autobiographical essay, not only showing how he is caught up in mainstream events like 9/11 and Iraqi Freedom, but how his past and present selves whorl and eddy in essays that are richly drawn and brutally honest. In this groundbreaking book, Jennings intersperses excerpts from his teenage-self’s diary, the “Red Book,” dialogue with an unnamed other, footnotes, and so much more. The net result is a kind of atomic cloud full of crackling energy and wonder at these myriad experiences, as our narrator suggests, a startling spectrum, "a continuum that shifts from Pussy to Badass." Read this book. It's a stunner. It’ll open your eyes and break your heart."


-Wendell Mayo, Author of The Cucumber King of Kedainiai


"There's much to enjoy in The Red Book—humor and honesty topping the list. This personal meditation does more than acknowledge the inherent tension between individual identity and preordained masculinity, isolation and interconnectedness, and reality and human construct; it celebrates these often irreconcilable dualities. In doing so, Jennings reveals his unwavering faith in the power of art and its ability to save a life—even if that life is one's own. "


—Raegen Pietrucha, author of An Animal I Can’t Name

In The Red Book, Brandon Jennings kicks up the dust of his ghosts in confrontation with but also in celebration of all of the selves that have trudged through the mire of abuse, anger, loneliness, and apathy. He dismantles the easy binaries, including the expectations of toxic masculinity that are wrapped up in his upbringing and military experiences, through conversational wit and often devastating honesty. In reading these essays, one bears witness to the person who was once silent in his shame as he relentlessly sings his scars into a redeemed recognizability.

—Natalie Giarratano, author of Big Thicket Blues
Brandon Davis Jennings gives us the book about war we’ve been missing, one where war crumbles from neatly packaged binaries of heroes and villains, gore and glory, bravery and cowardice. Instead, Jennings shows us a uniquely human workaday perspective. War is a job with a desk and an ironed uniform, performed by a kid struggling to understand why Bin Laden wants to kill him. To combat dehumanizing bureaucracy, Brandon strips the essay form bare and reshapes it as a weapon of the heart aimed at rescuing identity and emotional vulnerability from the thrumming machines of war and masculinity. The Red Book is a masterpiece of humor and honesty and a voice so strong it spills into endnotes and splits in half. In these tightly connected essays, Jennings invites us to laugh at him, but instead we meditate with him on how we might make sense of an abusive world. Jennings’s essays are the gauze for so many of America’s wounds.
-Dustin M. Hoffman, author of One-Hundred-Knuckled Fist
“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
The Red Book is a relentless, frenetic study of memory. Jennings lays his experiences bare, whether they involve the war in Iraq or the wars in one’s head, debating with himself as if there’s an angel on one shoulder and a smart-ass devil on the other. This book tunnels through anger and frustration, humor and absurdity, and somewhere in that blur where boyhood becomes manhood, Jennings breaks through to daylight, a husband and father grateful for the place where he now stands.

Adam Schuitema, author of The Things We Do That Make No Sense
In The Red Book (or Operation Iraqi Freedom is My Fault), Brandon Davis Jennings assembles a landscape of memories, redactions and ruthless truths as he draws from a journal he kept as a teenager and his life as an airman serving in Saudi Arabia. “Real war stories aren’t about excitement and adventure—they’re about facts,” he says, and these aren’t just war stories. These essays are slyly evasive and playfully circuitous as they weave through fact and fiction and erasure, only arrive with an unwavering gaze on the ways that a man’s childhood homes, his boredom in the desert, and even the voices in his head can be as brutal as the battlefield. Jennings has written a bold, daring book that is unflinchingly about what it means to stay alive.

— W. Todd Kaneko, Author of The Dead Wrestler Elegies and Co-author of Poetry: A Writers Guide and Anthology

This energetic book keenly illuminates an absurd world—a world of soldiers who bury tires in sand, and of football players who claim real men do not wear sunscreen, and of people who believe memories can be destroyed as easily as documents. “The world works without our help and without concern for what we notice,” Jennings writes. Yet, here he is, struggling to help and to notice it all. Somehow even the reader feels noticed, befriended, as—with humor and grief—Jennings walks a switchback path to a kind of wisdom.
— --Brad Modlin, author of Everyone at this Party Has Two Names