I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story
By Rick Bragg
(Alfred A. Knopf: New York) $23.95/hardcover
Rick Bragg (All Over But the Shoutin', Ava's Man), with his customary homespun prose, tells the story of Pfc. Jessica Lynch's 2003 capture and nine-day ordeal as a POW in an Iraqi hospital -- focusing equally on Lynch's backwoods home of Palestine, W. Va., where Jessi's mother, Deadra, and her father, Greg Sr., waited with the world, wondering if their little girl would return to them whole, if at all.
Everyone knows the story by now -- or some version of it -- but this one seems to have come directly from the humble perspectives of Lynch and her family, not from a prefabricated made-for-TV ideal of young girl as war hero. Lynch herself says, in the early pages, "For twenty years, nobody knew my name. Now they want my autograph. But I'm not a hero. ... I'm just a survivor."
At points it feels as if Bragg is stretching the material to make it into a book, or perhaps this is an editing oversight -- several quotes and anecdotes are repeated and not necessarily for emphasis.
Still, his storytelling expertise makes this a quick and enjoyable read. Bragg is particularly effective at describing what he sees as the story's real triumph: a community's and a family's prayers answered and their overwhelming love -- and fears -- for one of their daughters, writ large.
-- Kathryn Eastburn
Back Under Sail: Recovering the Spirit of Adventure
By Migael Scherer
(Milkweed Editions: Minneapolis) $22/hardcover Non-fiction
Migael Scherer's account of crewing a sailboat race through the Alaskan fiords is part adventure tale, part retrospective memoir -- all lyrical, bracing prose. (Disclosure: I am acquainted with Ms. Scherer through her academic role as director of the Dart Award for Excellence in Reporting on Victims of Violence.)
Scherer has written before about surviving a brutal, life-threatening rape in her award-winning first book, Still Loved by the Sun. Here she writes from a new perspective, wondering if she will be able to recover her spirit of adventure in spite of the lingering effects of the trauma that almost left her dead a few years back.
As the sea journey advances, Scherer reflects on the uneven course of the last few years of her life while tolerating and eventually enjoying close human contact with an otherwise all-male crew. Her thoughts trail home to her husband and to the inevitable ways their bonds have been stretched.
Wise and elegant, Back Under Sail poses tough questions against the author's unerring knowledge that life is an unpredictable voyage -- across dangerous waters, through extraordinary beauty, toward hope.
-- Kathryn Eastburn