30 September, 2006

Blood Brothers

Update: Book tour info. Latest info.

Don't miss this one...

With great insight and compassion, Award-winning journalist Michael Weisskopf has written on a subject very near and dear to my heart—the amputees of this war. Weisskopf himself lost his dominant hand while embedded with soldiers in Iraq in preparation for the Time magazine 2003 Person of the Year edition. He picked up a grenade that landed in his vehicle and awoke to a whole new life: Ward 57 of Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

But while Weisskopf weaves himself throughout Blood Brothers, he is not the central figure. Instead, he vividly paints the portraits of three fellow-travelers in Ward 57, soldiers who must come to terms with the physical and psychological impacts of losing a limb. In powerful but matter-of-fact, news-like prose, the reader is introduced to Before and After, and taken along for the gut-wrenching journey in between as wounded warriors (along with their loved ones and care-givers) tackle the mountain that is physical and psychological recovery from amputation.

Blood Brothers is the kind of book that will put you through the emotional wringer, but you won't want to put down. You'll laugh when the wounded but fiery Army sergeant and the Marine physical therapist get into a verbal pissing match and cry when you read of heroic medics or the pain of the residents of Ward 57; other times you’ll want to throw something against the wall as you see a need that isn’t addressed or stand up and cheer when a physical milestone is reached.

Though it's largely apolitical, an anti-war reader will see nothing but the darkness and pain in this book. But truth is, it's all there: the horror and the beauty, the heights and the depths, the illusory achievements and the real milestones. Due to a reportorial style that essentially allows them to speak for themselves, the soldiers in Blood Brothers stand on the page in all their glory and humility, strength and weakness. The reader sees the darkest days and the moments of hope, the times when the path to healing is clear, and the times there seems no possible future.

I wish every severely-injured warfighter and those who love him or her could read this book. I would also send it to every volunteer and employee serving in a military hospital or any other person who wants to better understand the challenges and recovery process of those who go to war but are not lucky enough to come back in one piece.

This one's a must-read. Go get it. And it wouldn't hurt to thank Mr. Weisskopf for the service it's going to do to wounded warfighters and those of us who love them, either. John Donovan and I have been in personal contact with Mr. Weisskopf, and for all his journalistic "objectivity," his response upon hearing of Valour-IT tells us where his heart was in writing this book: "I wrote Blood Brothers for the very people your organization helps."


In addendum, a bit about Weisskopf’s part of the story… Weisskopf spends a lot of time in his recovery trying to understand why he picked up the explosive and to balance or regain his "journalistic objectivity." It's not a pretty sight. Watching him lay himself as psychologically open as he does in this book is somewhat painful for the reader, but I must admire his willingness to show us the journey.

I can’t help but wonder if part of his agony over why he did what he did and whether he wanted to hide or display his physical condition came from his knowledge that despite the pride and idealism that guide him as a journalist who wants to have an impact on the world, he knows he’ll never be the hero his fellow travelers in Ward 57 are. He lived and suffered and recovered with them, formed bonds that will last a lifetime. But he’s not one of them. And in some strange way his journalistic idealism almost seems to make him feel guilty for feeling drawn to them, for his pesonal connection. But I suspect it was that very pull and connection that allowed him to write Blood Brothers with such compassion, insight and respect.

A special thank you to Mr. Weisskopf's publisher, who was kind enough to send me a pre-press copy of the book, which will be widely available October 3. I also hope to get a copy of the book tour schedule (October and November) and will post it here.

Update: Excerpt and interview with Weisskopf here. Milblogger reviews of Blood Brothers can be found at A Soldiers' Perspective, Argghhh!, Dadmanly, and Sgt. Hook (there may be more to come).