My Life as a Foreign Country – Brian Turner – Autobiography/Memoir

My Life As A Foreign Country282
Brian Turner is a poet/writer & ex US Army veteran who served for seven years with stations in both Bosnia-Herzegovnia & Iraq. This excellent book extends many ruminations & accounts during, after & prior to his deployment, defined by Turner’s starkly descriptive & stylized writing characteristic. His style is blunt & terse but also verbose, ornate & often abstruse & cryptic with many peregrine qualities. It’s evocative & can be considerably ambiguous, sometimes to extremes, I would not even be uncomfortable with christening it avant-garde on occasion, whereas at others it’s profoundly direct with a literary brutality. Some of the passages are very abstract & have a dream-like/oneiric angle. The book can easily be read for these qualities alone, irrespective of any absence of interest in modern war & conflict. but should a desire for knowledge in the inner-realities of recent conflicts be present, Turner’s accounts contain reams of salient information from his very direct experience of military conduct in Iraq & the muted phenomenon of post conflict home-coming/reintegration into the civilian sphere & demilitarization. As a subject of specific interest, I took a great deal of knowledge away from Turner’s documentations. Much of the Iraq based material illustrates the casual abuse & madness that follows America’s military occupations whenever they are written about in veridical & non-sanitized terms. Terrorizing civilians in armoured convoys, throwing bottles of piss to scrambling village kids from speeding vehicles, shooting (non-lethal in his accounts) cars off the road “I stopped counting the cars we shot at each day. I got tired of counting” if they got to close. In a particularly fucked-up section, an officer informs the squad “you are authorized to shoot children”, which induces acute consternation in one of Turner’s team members who takes him aside so the others can’t hear & proceeds to whisper – “Dude. I don’t think I can shoot children”. Turner, although never directly critical or apologetic exposes first-hand accounts with staunch veracity. His writings on the war’s aftermath, which have been more deadly for US military personnel than the occupation itself (the US Iraq veterans suicide epidemic is apparently running at over EIGHTEEN per day!) is of course immensely revealing & relevant. His brilliant & curt chapter on why he joined the military which ends up being equivocal & inconclusive along with the obligatory “So -how many did you kill?” question (asked by an inmate at Walden Prison in Liverpool whilst Turner was doing a poetry reading) … “about 1.2 million” he responds.

An excellently written, informative & important book supplying precious information & very honest first-account testimony & reflection with unorthodox language & delivery.

Jonathon Cape
Non Fiction
Brian Turner