Battle Fatigue | Mark Kurlansky | Book Review

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Battle Fatigue | Mark Kurlansky | Book ReviewBattle Fatigue by Mark Kurlansky
Published by A&C Black on November 7th 2011
Genres: Young Adult, Historical, United States, 20th Century, General, Family
Pages: 256
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon

Growing up in the years following World War II, Joel Bloom always played soldiers with his friends. But by the time he's eighteen, the Vietnam War is in full swing, and it's not as simple as the war games he played when he was a child. Old enough to be drafted, Joel loves his country, but he knows that fighting in an unjust war isn't something he can do. After trying and failing to be a conscientious objector he leaves for Canada - a decision that will help him avoid the physical conflict of the war, but will create another inside of him that will take much longer to resolve. An insightful and compelling novel that explores one boy's struggle to understand himself and the harsh realities of life during wartime.

There are some books that strike you right in the conscience. These are the books that make you think and maybe ponder your value system just a little bit. When I opened up Battle Fatigue by Mark Kurlansky, I think I was expecting draft dodgers and maybe a teenager reluctantly going to war. I think I was expecting a book that is surface more than it is deep. Straight up, I was wrong. Kurlansky’s Battle Fatigue is a well-written young adult gem that examines war, pacifism, and what it is like when your upbringing is permeated by your father’s battles, especially when all of the dads in the neighborhood are from the greatest generation. It’s a story of growing up in the Cold War and then graduating to the Vietnam War. Honestly, I was not quite expecting Battle Fatigue to have such force, but, it totally does my friends, it totally does.

Joel Bloom and his friends grow up in their small town of Haley, Massachusetts playing war with the artifacts that their dads have brought home from World War II. They grow up knowing that someday they will be called upon to fight and defend America. The book, Battle Fatigue, starts out with Joel at 8 years old. His observations about war are age appropriate, but also quite astute. He talks about his Uncle shutting down and getting a far away look in his eyes when old war movies come on TV. He talks about which branch of the military he would join with his friends based on which ones have the best uniforms.

Then, we have high school Joel, who is growing up in the era where Kennedy is assassinated. Being from Massachusetts, it is absolutely a huge deal and a huge tragedy for Joel and his friends. We see baseball strongly touch Joel’s life – he is a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers. We see how Joel’s character is shaped and how he develops this deep objection to war and what he sees as senseless killing. Joel believes there is a better way. He does not want to go to Vietnam and truly believes that killing the Vietnamese is deeply wrong.

We then get to read about Joel in college and see that he chooses a major based on his objections to war — he picks biology because he believes that can’t be used to develop weapons. We see Joel get drafted and denied conscientious objector status. And well, because the summary from the publisher tells you this, we see what it is like for Joel in Canada. Friends, this is my first book that I’ve read where the character chooses to draft the dodge and go to Canada rather than fight. The Things They Carried, this is not (but that’s a pretty great book too, FYI).

I guess I went in not too sure what to make of Joel. Here is the thing, both my grandfathers are war veterans. My boyfriend’s grandfather is a war veteran. My dad and his brothers were just little kids during the Vietnam war, so they did not serve. So, you know, thinking about the military and serving when your number is called is personal to me. I wasn’t sure if I would dislike Joel or not from him dodging his duty so to speak. But then you guys, I read Kurlansky’s book and my mind was changed.

I really loved that we got the whole span of Joel’s formative years. I love that we can see that his is exactly the sort of person who should not serve in Vietnam because his heart is not in it and because he truly does not believe in the cause. Just thinking about it, I felt that we could see that Joel’s war is different from his father’s war. We could see how this war affects Joel’s friends and the effects on his neighbor, Dickie, who ends up with post traumatic stress from his experiences. I just, I really thought this book did such an excellent job conveying why people are pacifists.

Readers who want to examine war from a different point of view than the typical war hero perspective would do well to pick up Battle Fatigue by Mark Kurlansky. It is a quiet, superb book that will make you think and consider why we fight.

Disclosure: Review Copy Obtained At BEA 2011. Wowwwwww.


Helen’s Book Blog – “the story really pulled me in”
Annette’s Book Spot – “the book reads quickly and held my interest.”
RoeSpot – “a thoughtful look at the evolution of a pacifist”

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April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.
About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.