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A Review of the Reviews of "The Farther Shore"

As Michael C and I aren’t the authorities on all things memoir, we like to check out other opinions of the books we review. The reviews of The Farther Shore, for the most part, deal with the central issue I’ve pondered on our blog: memoir or novel? (The answer is novel.). So we thought we’d share them with you.

I originally found The Farther Shore at the now defunct lit blog co-op. The idea was that prominent litbloggers would read unacknowledged new books and give them press. It was a great idea, and you can read the obituary for the site here.

Anyways, here’s a collection of mostly positive reviews of The Farther Shore from major media outlets, including the New York Times Book Review and Salon. Here is the original review of The Farther Shore from the lit blog co-op.

Here is a dissenting view, about The Farther Shore. “It tells us nothing new about war--although of course there may be nothing new to say--but ultimately tells us even less about what fiction might be made to do.” I actually agree with both points, but not every novel or piece of art needs to break new ground stylistically, especially when the book breaks new ground topically.

Another reviewer, “I wondered about why it needed to be a novel -- why, in these memoir-sodden days of ours, would a writer choose fiction when he could probably have gotten more money and notice by writing about his own experiences?”

Here’s a guess: maybe nothing significant happened to him. I fear soldier/authors--to sell books--will inevitably have to Frey their own experiences to make them more exciting. It’s what leads journalists to the most dangerous units, distorting the reality of the war. More on this soon.

Here is one final thought that captures the essence of The Farther Shore: “There is this lack of moralizing throughout Eck's writing. Stantz and his men really aren't portrayed as heroes, and, in fact, at times one might even lean in the other direction.”

three comments

Here’s a guess: maybe nothing significant happened to him. I fear soldier/authors—to sell books—will inevitably have to Frey their own experiences to make them more exciting. It’s what leads journalists to the most dangerous units, distorting the reality of the war.

Most personal war narratives I’ve come across have been of this sort – the firsthand account of combat. It’s as if not being personally involved in combat makes the experience of war less real or less interesting.

A memoir I found fascinating is Matthew Alexander’s How to Break a Terrorist, his account of being an interrogator in Iraq. Alexander’s experiences consisted mostly of conversations, often one-way, with people who in many cases knew little of real intelligence value and long hours of writing reports. Much of the book also involves his frustrations with the prevailing attitude at the time of confrontational interrogation despite the long shadow of Abu Ghraib. Nevertheless it’s spellbinding, a look into what I knew to be an integral part of military operations, but one we don’t hear about often enough, especially not from first-hand sources.


The other point is that most people don’t want to read a memoir about a logistics company that never leaves the FOB. So I have a feeling a lot of the reports exaggerate how much not fighting many units do in Iraq/Afghanistan.


You could say the same about a med company behind the lines in the Korean war, but that movie/Tv show was awesome. (Actually, there are a few med personnel memoirs, but no really mainstream/popular ones)

Point is, there are stories everywhere.