Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles by Anthony Swofford is an intense, honest war memoir by a Marine sniper who served during the Gulf War in 1990. Swofford's prose is as blunt and masculinely intimidating as the violent, gruff, and deadly figure the so-called "jarheads" cut that earned them their nickname. As with most good war literature, it was very difficult to read, but worth the discomfort and brutality. It was made into a movie that I haven't seen starring Jake Gyllenhaal, but I cannot imagine the qualities that I enjoy in this book would translate well into a movie.
For example, one motif of the book is the letters that are mailed in and out of the barracks in the desert and the power that they held over the marines stuck waiting for the political and economic battle being waged in Washington and Saudi to determine their fate. Swofford writes:
I was in the Desert, sending out messages worldwide, clamouring for love with my pen. And with each letter I wrote and sealed, parts of me escaped the Kingdom of Saud. At times I thought I might write myself away, fit my entire body and mind into a few thick envelopes, and that way, as a stowaway, escape the ghastly end that awaited me.I find it hard to imagine a movie dramatizing the urgency of the need to write himself away from the war, although this is such a powerful image in a book. I remember seeing the previews of this movie and being uninterested--after reading the book I'm only a little more interested (if you've seen it and liked it, feel free to convince me otherwise).
Although I wasn't quite as impressed with Jarhead as with my all-time favorite book (not just war book) The Things They Carried by Vietnam vet Tim O'Brien (it might actually be impossible to impress me more than this book), I found it to be very readable and engaging. It also gives some insight into what the current war in Iraq must be like for the soldiers still entrenched, which is something most of us could do well to remember.