Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq by Kirsten Holmstedt
Okay. So if you read this book let me apologize. Somewhere I had read that it was good. I need to hunt that review down because now I’m certain it’s a unicorn. I was so excited to read because I am woefully ignorant about women in combat; I looked forward to hearing women’s stories about their time fighting in Iraq. But as I quickly discovered I wasn’t going to get to hear the women’s voices tell their own stories, but rather I’d hear them through the author’s filter of “she said, she thought, she did” and that made this book just…bad. The stories were interesting but the way in which it was written impinged upon my ability to enjoy them. The writer sounded like a 14-year-old, there’s no other way to describe it. Each chapter was a different woman’s story, and instead of letting the woman’s voice shine the writer chose to tell their stories for them.
Here’s an example:
At one door, Blais thought she saw a big lock. Knowing that she wouldn’t be able to penetrate the lock, she kicked the door hard and knocked it down. This got her blood flowing. She was pumped. The force that she used to kick down the door drew the admiration of the male Marines in the hallway but not from Kispetik, who would later tease Blais, saying the door was made of something resembling particle board and not oak. Anyone could have knocked it down. After clearing the rooms on all four floors, most of the Marines settled into a large classroom on the second level.
Wouldn’t that story be neat…if it was actually in Blais’ own voice? Not only would it sound more interesting, but I’d believe it more, I’d understanding it more if it were in her own words. The whole time I was reading this I’d get distracted when the author would write “she was pumped.” How do you know?? Did she say “I was pumped.” Why feel the need to change the tense? There’s so much value and power in words, and the author completely stripped voices.
I also have this big issue with people co-opting others stories. It’s Blais’ story. Let her tell it. While I appreciate you collecting the stories from (potentially reluctant) storytellers, there’s no need to co-opt and in in that manner change their stories. What was the point of taking away her voice of her own story? I just don’t get it.
(Sidenote: The Girls Who Went Away, our next book, also collects women’s stories and yet does an amazing job at letting their voices shine. It does everything I wish BOS would’ve done but failed at.)
To be honest, I don’t have much to say about this book other than I didn’t like it. The writing was juvenile and melodramatic and hindered me from enjoying the stories. If you did manage to read it, let me know what you thought–am I alone in my distaste? The reviews on Amazon are so positive, I’m confused. Or, if you know of any other books about women in combat (or even about women’s wartime contributions) that are actually decent, please let me know.