I just finished my 1st 4.0 of the year. This is really an amazing book. It's one of the books featured by Silicon Valley Reads this year. Sue Diaz's Minefields of the Heart: A Mother's Stories of a Son at War is a non-fiction account of being the mother of a son who has 2 one-year tours of duty in Iraq. It is extremely poignant and certainly gives this reader an inside view of what it must be like for families who have sons and daughters in war zones. I am from the Vietnam War era but joined the Army Reserve (in Oakland, CA) in order to avoid being drafted (and probably sent overseas). In fact, my draft number, 152, was called that year (remember that they had stopped giving deferments to college students in 1969). I would have been drafted. So, fortunately, my parents were able to avoid the angst and anxiety that Sue and her husband, Roman Sr., had to go through. I feel fortunate about that. And as far as my own children are concerned, by the time my oldest, Josh (who's now 36), was of draft age, they had eliminated the draft and gone to an all-volunteer army. That makes Sue's book all the more amazing; that it can bring out such empathy for an experience that I (and my parents) didn't have.
Lest you think that this book only dwells on the war and its ramifications for the family back home, let me tell you that there's a lot more to it. And thank goodness for that. I don't know if I could read 156 pages of war reporting. I think that would be really tough. So how does Sue get around that? Well, she uses several clever devices for turning the attention in a slightly different direction.
My favorite trick of hers is having Roman Jr.'s pet tortoise, SpongeBob, send letters to Roman. There are 5 of them. They are very fun and funny. SpongeBob starts his letters with "Hey Dude," and "Yo Bro," and "Yo, Spc. D." He ends his letters with "Lates," and "Peace Out," and "You Da Man, I Da Turtle." I am impressed that Sue, a 50-something, knows all this teenage lingo. Good stuff.
Another one of Sue's devices is to have a Mr. Hyde to her Dr. Jekyll. Lucinda, Sue's alter ego, is with Sue at various outings and argues with her about what to buy and who to talk to and what to say. I enjoyed the back-and-forth that Sue established with Lucinda.
And I enjoyed seeing what Sue wrote in their Christmas card craftings. She photoshopped pictures of the family on small, stick figures. So there's a big head on a little body. Then she would give the news of the year. Obviously, the years when Roman Jr. is gone are interesting news years. But the letters are never maudlin or depressing. She always gives a positive report, no matter how she is feeling at the time. I enjoyed reading those letters too.
Despite all of these diversions, there's no way to avoid what went on in Iraq. Every day in their local paper (in San Diego), there was a listing of dead and wounded from that area. Sue talks about how it felt every time there was a knock on the door, where she worried that it would be 2 Army officers to give them notification of Roman Jr. being killed in Iraq. She talks about what it felt like to drive home and fear that an official-looking vehicle was sitting at the curb. She tells us how hard it was to encounter peers from their community and have chats about the other person's son or daughter in college, at work, having babies, while Roman Jr. was fighting for his life every day. You, as the reader, get a glimpse of what Sue went through. It's really unimaginable.
There's one story I will tell you that reminds me of a situation that my family and I went through. At one point, the building that Roman Jr. and about 120 other soldiers were living in caught fire. There were no injuries, but the soldiers lost all of their private possessions. There just wasn't time to grab their foot lockers. Because they had already gone through so much, they all treated this as just another bump in the road. One of the soldiers said: "Gee, I wonder what I'm going to write in my journal today - oh, wait, my journal burned up." When my house caught on fire back in May of 1996 (we were nomads for 2.5 years), Josh put a message on our voicemail that said: "We are not here to take your call - because our house burned down." I'm certainly not comparing Iraq to Los Gatos, but there is a commonality in finding humor in a non-life threatening situation.
As I mentioned earlier, this book is only 156 pages. And quite a few of those have pictures on them. This makes it all the more amazing that Sue Diaz's book packs such a wallop. If you want to know, or need to know, or should know, what it's like to be the parent, especially the mother, of a soldier at war, please read this book. I promise that you will be glad you did.