From the moment that Scott receives a phone-call in November 2003 advising that he is to be deployed to Camp Anaconda, Iraq, he keeps a journal. This fascinating and gripping book is the result of those entries. Scott is skilled in aviation hydraulics and is placed in the Component Repair Platoon, so LINES IN THE SAND is not an action-packed combat read but a contemplative, primary-source narrative of his personal journey. Scott’s writing is intelligently sublime and shot through with an eloquent seam of poetry which is unusual for a book of this genre. It reads beautifully; measured yet flowing and totally absorbing. It is obvious through the elegant prose that Scott has an introspective, sensitive personality; truly a writer’s soul. Consequently, the reader feels a sense of foreboding which begins with the deeply depressing atmosphere of Fort Knox in Kentucky. The scale of sheer incompetence from top military administration in handling these men at training stage and beyond is breathtaking. The lack of guidance, instruction or clarity leads to days of enervating limbo, sapping any last vestige of mental strength. It would be laughably Kafkaesque if not so utterly shocking. The abject squalor in which the soldiers exist whilst in Camp Anaconda reduces many to base, animal degradation and psychological collapse. It is appalling as it is compelling and raises profoundly disturbing questions about the plausibility and management of modern warfare, as well as examining who we truly become when the veneer of respectability is torn away. The Middle East is wonderfully realized through consistent reference to its landscape; the searing heat, spectacular sunsets and perpetual sand. Scott’s visceral description of the effects of the desert elements on both his mental and physical wellbeing really brings the inhospitable environment into sharp, uncomfortable focus. His considered understanding of the reasoning behind the Iraqis’ retaliations is refreshing.
However, LINES IN THE SAND is not just about the traumatic effect of military conflict. Scott leaves for Iraq happily married to Rita; he touchingly writes of an all-consuming love for her and their life in Montana. Rita’s communications keep Scott going in the bewilderingly brutal early days but it becomes painfully obvious from her detached, sporadic responses that Rita is beginning to withdraw from the marriage. The raw agony expressed in the journals by Scott as realization sets in is harrowing and almost voyeuristic to read, exacerbated by the continual fear of death as he endures the unremitting nightly mortar shelling. His subsequent struggles with PTSD, homelessness and alcoholism following his return from Iraq are equally heart-rending and poignantly expressed. It’s testament to his underlying mental fortitude that he eventually attains a level of acceptance and harmony.
LINES IN THE SAND is a profound, thought-provoking and cerebral chronicle of one man’s soul-destroying tour of duty in Iraq and how he managed to overcome its legacy of chaos.
~Rose Auburn for IndieReader