My Life as a Foreign Country
W. W. Norton & Company
Jonathan Cape/Random House (UK)
A war memoir of unusual literary beauty and power from the acclaimed poet who wrote the poem “The Hurt Locker.”
In 2003, Sergeant Brian Turner crossed the line of departure with a convoy of soldiers headed into the Iraqi desert. Now, each night beside his sleeping wife, he imagines himself as a drone aircraft, hovering over the terrains of Bosnia and Vietnam, Iraq and Northern Ireland, the killing fields of Cambodia and the death camps of Europe—a landscape of ongoing violence, revealing all that man has done to man.
“In Brian Turner’s extraordinarily capable hands, language is war’s undoing, in the sense that his words won’t allow absurdity and terror to be anything less than real. My Life as a Foreign Country is a lyrical and restless book, shaped by a writer who believes language can make the world alive to us—even when that world is foreign and full of ghosts, even when we try to turn our backs on it.” —Mark Doty
In this breathtaking memoir, Turner retraces his war experience—pre-deployment to combat zone, homecoming to aftermath. Free of self-indulgence or self-glorification, his account combines recollection with the imagination’s efforts to make reality comprehensible. Across time, he seeks parallels in the histories of others who have gone to war, especially his taciturn grandfather (World War II), father (Cold War), and uncle (Vietnam). Through it all, Turner paints a devastating portrait of what it means to be a soldier and a human being.
“Turner’s voice is prophetic, an eerie calm in the midst of calamity…as precise as a bullet, as all-encompassing as the apocalypse. One question echoes through these pages: How does someone leave a war behind and walk into the rest of their life? My Life as a Foreign Country holds a mirror up to what propels us, over and over, into those wars, and serves as a reminder that, in the end, war is simply about counting the dead. Achingly, disturbingly, shockingly beautiful.” —Nick Flynn, author of The Reenactments and The Ticking Is the Bomb
“In My Life as a Foreign Country, Brian Turner reckons with a personal theatre where faces and places converge; moments of candor and existential longing break open to expose a world of truths. This memoir enacts the journey of an epic poem where war, and love, and unspeakable grief accrue sensations, stories and names, like a sharp blade upturning earth—an intimate logbook of experiences. But his critical self-reflection beckons us as witness through each brief remembrance—a movement that builds and turns until the collection grows speedily into a whole picture, a symphonic sweep, and the reader learns that Brian Turner is a born storyteller.” —Yusef Komunyakaa, author of Dien Cai Dau and Neon Vernacular
“A brilliant fever dream of war’s surreality, its lastingness, its place in families and in the fate of nations. Each sentence has been carefully measured, weighed with loss and vitality, the hard-earned language of a survivor who has seen the world destroyed and written it back to life. This is a profound and beautiful work of art.” —Benjamin Busch, author of Dust to Dust