War Literature for Book Clubs in the SDHC Lending Library

Phil Klay speaks at the South Dakota Festival of Books in 2014, the same year he won the National Book Award for his Iraq novel "Redeployment." The book title is available in the SDHC Lending Library as a Book Club to Go selection. 

A Poignant Topic for Book Clubs

By Ashley Kosters
SDHC Intern

Editor's Note: This post is a part of an ongoing series highlighting selections from the South Dakota Humanities Council Lending Library, which features books to read in a variety of genres for book clubs and other groups. The lending library selections mentioned in these posts can be borrowed for a $50 application fee as a "Book Club to Go." Click here for more information.

While war is certainly not a positive subject, it is a perennially popular theme for authors and readers and book clubs. Whether the storyline concerns the Civil War, World War II, the Vietnam War, or the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no shortage of books to read.

Many war narratives are written from the point of view of the combatants, but they also come from affected civilians, historians, reporters, and even military family members. In addition, the scope of the stories includes not only the hardships the soldiers faced on the battlefield, but also the adversities of adjusting to life back home.

"We have seen the humanities community form a resounding response to address returning soldiers and the potential short- and long-term problems they might face in their return to civilian life as well as from PTSD and other problems" said Dr. Jason McEntee, professor and department head of English at South Dakota State University, coordinator of the Literature and Medicine program and a former member of the South Dakota Humanities Council Board of Directors.

Through the South Dakota Humanities Council's Book Club to Go program, participants have the opportunity to read and discuss several works that address the complicated topics related to war.

War Literature Title Spotlight: Redeployment by Phil Klay

Phil Klay's "Redeployment" takes readers to the frontlines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking us to understand what happened there and what happened to the soldiers who returned. Interwoven with themes of brutality and faith, guilt and fear, helplessness and survival, the characters in these stories struggle to make meaning out of chaos.

In "Redeployment," a soldier who has to shoot dogs because they are eating human corpses must learn what it is like to return to domestic life in suburbia, surrounded by people "who have no idea where Fallujah is, where three members of your platoon died." In "After Action Report," a Lance Corporal seeks expiation for a killing he didn't commit, so that his best friend will be unburdened. A Mortuary Affairs Marine tells about his experiences collecting remains – of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers both. A chaplain sees his understanding of Christianity, and his ability to provide solace through religion, tested by the actions of a ferocious Colonel.

And in the darkly comic "Money as a Weapons System," a young Foreign Service Officer is given the absurd task of helping Iraqis improve their lives by teaching them to play baseball. These stories reveal the intricate combination of monotony, bureaucracy, comradeship and violence that make up a soldier's daily life at war, and the isolation, remorse, and despair that can accompany a soldier's homecoming.

"Redeployment" is poised to become a classic in the tradition of war writing. Across nations and continents, Klay sets in devastating relief the two worlds a soldier inhabits: one of extremes and one of loss. Written with a hard-eyed realism and stunning emotional depth, this work marks Phil Klay as one of the most talented new voices of his generation.

Phil Klay appeared at the 2014 South Dakota Festival of Books featuring his Iraq novel

Additional Titles:

The SDHC Book Club to Go includes other war narratives, such as:

  • "America's War" by Edward L. Ayers
  • "Crossroads of Freedom – Antietam" by James M. McPherson
  • "The Forever War" by Dexter Filkins
  • "Love My Rifle More Than You" by Kayla Williams
  • "On the Homefront: South Dakota Stories" edited by Charles L. Woodard
  • "We Band of Angels" by Elizabeth M. Norman
  • "The Wild Blue" by Stephen E. Ambrose

Find Books to Read for your Group

With a diverse selection of books to read, the South Dakota Humanities Council offers the Book Club to Go packaged reading program for book clubs or other interested groups.

Whether the events are organized by individuals or by organizations, the Book Club to Go provides up to 30 copies of any title from the council's lending library and an SDHC scholar, if desired, to lead a book discussion. For a $50 application fee, the group gains access to any of the council's 70+ titles. For more information on the application and requirements, click the button below.