Review of Senator’s Son: An Iraq War Novel

“The sergeant kept the lower half of his body still and raised his flashlight attached under his rifle barrel. He cautiously squeezed the handle grip shining light at his feet. Sure enough, he stood on what the Marines called a burrito wrap. The insurgents quickly planted these IEDs by throwing them out in the street.”

Senator’s Son: An Iraq War Novel by Luke S. Larson

Some months ago, the author (Luke Larson served as a Marine infantry officer and saw action in two tours to Ar Ramadi, Iraq in 2005 and then again in 2007) left a comment on my blog asking me to review Senator’s Son. After I agreed to review the book, he e-mailed me a few sample chapters. Based on what I read, I ordered a copy of the novel.

I finished the book by reading a page here and a page there, late at night, after long days at the hospital. I kept circling back over what I’d previously read, underlining passages and writing in margins, engrossed by the written word:

Golf mobile one pushed to Ramadi Med with the senior corporal and two other badly injured corporals. Rogue and Doc V rounded the corner of the gun truck heading back towards the seven-ton. The only Marine still in constant consciousness was the burned private. The private in his combat boots and boxers wandered in a daze talking to himself. The Marine stared at the lieutenant. His eyes pleaded to him. “Sir, you have to get me out of here.”

It’s a high-wire act of tense action mixed in with hesitant calls home to family, doctrinal discussions on counterinsurgency, stories of suffering Iraqis – told with real empathy, and the absurd teasing humor of young Marines far from home. One mini-monologue by a “been there, done that,” character named Rock had me rolling. Very funny.

The novel does have some problems: the prose can be confusing, there are unnecessary flashbacks, and a framing device that just plain doesn’t work. None of this matters, really. The heart of the book is a page turner, a story well told, and most importantly, an education for the reader.

As Zenpundit says in his review, “As an explanation of COIN, I think the book is a must read for anyone unfamiliar with the subject and the nuanced complexities that COIN entails. The gritty, unforgiving, human suffering and moments of triumph of soldiers waging “pop-centric” COIN that gets lost in powerpoint slides, in the dry abstractions of journal articles and blogospheric arguments far removed from the ground is present in ample measure in Senator’s Son.”

It’s an education I think more people should be eager to undertake – like keeping a kind of faith. The least you can do is read the stories, right?

I encourage you to read this novel. (Thanks for the link Instapundit!)