Sunday, February 21, 2010

Book Review: Ghosts of War by Ryan Smithson

I just finished Ghosts of War by Ryan Smithson*. (Literally. I just put it down, not an hour ago.) I read it in just a few days, which isn't the norm considering my busy schedule. This book warranted late nights, early mornings, and skipped household chores. That's how good it was.

The memoir of a 19-year-old soldier in Iraq, Ghosts of War wasn't an easy read. There were moments when I wanted to put the story down and let it go. But I kept reading, recognizing that once they enlisted, Smithson and his fellow soldiers had no choice. They lived through those experiences, and if they could do it, I could certainly do it vicariously from the safety of my own home.

Smithson describes heart-wrenching, violent and everyday experiences in a way that even the most isolated and privileged of us can relate to. This book is for anyone who has ever wondered why someone would enlist during war time. ("The Twin Towers didn't fall in Manhattan. They fell on me," Smithson says.) It is for anyone who has ever grumbled, "We shouldn't be over there. We never should have started this war." It is for anyone who has ever thought the only thing happening in Iraq is death and violence.

Smithson recognizes that his tour isn't one that movies will be made from or that will be recounted as one of heroism and honor. He's part of an engineering unit after all, not on the front lines. But he's part of a war, just the same. He risks his life doing every day tasks like going to dinner. He couldn't be further away from his home in New York State.

There's an eight-hour delay between Iraq and the United States. Millions of content American families will be sitting down for dinner eight hours from now. ... They'll be hungry for dinner and for the evening news. They'll be ready for the daily body count, the daily Bush-bashing, the story from Iraq. And that's all it will be to them: a story, a dramatic saga full of twists and turns and epic heroism. It'll be entertainment, the only thing they'll ever learn about the Iraq war.

The experiences Smithson describes take the reader beyond what we see on the evening news to something more concrete. This book is not entertainment. It's an honest, first-hand look at the good and bad of war.

Don't let the only thing you know about the Iraq war be the stories of destruction and death and violence you hear on the news. Sure, those things are important to recognize. They make up much of the war's plot line, but there's rebuilding, generosity, and support, too. In Iraq, as much as there is fighting and killing, there is also hope and faith and love.

If you're an American, Ghosts of War should be required reading.

* In the spirit of full disclosure, you should know that Ryan Smithson is my cousin. I was, however, in no way compensated for this review.

14 comments:

Erin said...

Wow, Ami. It's so neat that he is your cousin---the writing talent gene runs in the family, eh? I'll have to put this on my list. I sound like just the type who needs to read it.

Anonymous said...

hi...

right in this moment i am reading this book...
its so cool in the way ryan describes his moments in iraq,
i am thrilled to know what happens at the end..

tayvt said...

I am an English teacher. I am wondering what reason the author gives for being in Iraq other than 911.

I appreciate your response.

vt

Anonymous said...

this book is a must read, that's all im saying :)

Anonymous said...

Hi,
Im reading this book now for my english class and I have read your blog for quite some time now. I didnt really pay much attention to this blog when you read it but when started reading the book, it reminded me that you read it to. Now to see that Ryan is your Cousin is just amazing. He sounds like such a good person and has been through so much at such a young age.

Anonymous said...

I bought this book on Saturday night, and I had it finished on Sunday morning. It brought up many topics that I never even thought about before. I think this should be a book that's required to be read, because it really teaches you a lot about the war, the media, and what is means to be an American. Reading this book didn't really change the way I think about the war, because I already felt that even if some people don't think it's necessary, it kinda is (Do you really expect the terrorists to sit down at a table and negotiate with you?). But it did change the way I thought about other things.

Anonymous said...

Hi can anyone tell me Ryan's fan mail address? Ghost of War is an amazing book and I wrote a letter to Ryan to show him how great this book is and to thank him for joining the army.

Samuel said...

I hated this book. WORST EVER

deming said...

hey nice review on it i am a 7th graderand i was wondering was i right for this book or will i not udnertsand all of the concepts dat happened in the stort?

Hopelessly Hopeful said...

I'm a sophomore in high school, and so far I've read this book twice. Each time I read it, a new lesson is brought to the surface. Ryan's technique of writing and feeling of equality to the reader made me feel close to him. I felt as if I knew him once I put the book down. Every American should read this book to get a wake up call. We need to start worrying about our men and women over there, because each one has a story. It's about time we've started listening.

Andrew said...

This is the first book my 12 year old son has read cover to cover. He does not like to read but hopefully this book will be the first of many.

Anonymous said...

hi i like books and stuff yeehaaaw:)

Anonymous said...

This book is great, but its so sad:{ 9/11 just gives me chills:S this book just about makes me cry, hes so brave

Kayla Boughner said...

This book is amazing! From being in a military family, I can definitely understand everything he had to go through, even though I'm not a soldier myself. It touched me and reinforced my beliefs about being an American. To all of the haters of this book, military itself, and soldiers in general: open your eyes! This is not a joke! These soldiers like Ryan are protecting us and making freedom free! We take advantage of almost everything and these brave men and women sacrifice everything to make that possible. They stand up and do things that you most likely couldn't do! Stop being selfish! Thank you, Ryan and everyone else in the military, you deserve the highest of respect and honor for protecting our flag.

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