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Anthony Swofford follows his international bestseller, Jarhead, with an unforgettable first novel -- a powerful story about a youth spent on a U.S. air base in Japan and the gritty neon streets just outside it, where the Japanese underworld lurks and a rebellious young girl finds herself in great danger. Anthony Swofford took the literary world by storm with Jarhead, his electrifying memoir of serving as a U.S. marine in the Gulf War. Celebrated for its visceral candor and profane lyricism, Jarhead stands today as a landmark contribution to the literature of war. Now, in his bold fiction debut, Swofford demonstrates the same audacious vision as he plumbs the legacies of war, the wish for redemption, and the danger of love. Seventeen-year-old Severin Boxx lives on Yokota, an enormous American air force base on the outskirts of Tokyo that is home to fourteen thousand U.S. soldiers and a large contingent of long-range nuclear bombers. Just outside the base lies the busy Haijima rail station. Exit A is one of the many doorways into this place of movement, anonymity, and sudden disappearance. Much of the novel's action transpires in the netherworld around Exit A, a mad neon landscape of noodle shops, strip clubs, sushi joints, pawnshops, whorehouses, sake fountains, military surplus stores, tattoo parlors, hash bars, comic book stores, pachinko parlors, fish shops, and alleys -- "the alleys that all lead somewhere, usually down." It's here, not long before the Gulf War begins, that we first meet Severin, an earnest, muscular high-school-football star and son of a base colonel. Like most of the other young American men on the air base, Severin is mad for Virginia Kindwall, the base general's daughter, who is a hafu -- half American and half Japanese. Beautiful, smart, and utterly defiant of a father who wields godlike military power, Virginia has become a petty criminal in the Japanese underground. Severin is soon caught up in Virginia's world. But theirs is not a typical high school romance; they fall into trouble way over their heads and are quickly subjected to the enormous, unforgiving tensions between America and Japan -- a relationship still informed by the long shadows of World War II and America's use of the atomic bomb. Years later, Severin and Virginia remain lost to each other -- until an emotionally frayed, thirtysomething Severin embarks on a quest to find Virginia and, in so doing, the part of himself taken from him when his boyhood abruptly ended. Like Jarhead before it, Anthony Swofford's Exit A is darkly irreverent, frankly erotic, and more than a little wicked, a tale told in a brooding, pained voice filled with the simple human fury of being alive. It is, in sum, a first novel in full. Building inexorably toward a climax that is at once suspenseful and emotionally overwhelming, Anthony Swofford's fiction debut is a triumph.
The publication of Jarhead launched a new career for Anthony Swofford, earning him accolades for its gritty and unexpected portraits of the soldiers who fought in the Gulf War. It spawned a Hollywood movie. It made Swofford famous and wealthy. It also nearly killed him. Now with the same unremitting intensity he brought to his first memoir, Swofford describes his search for identity, meaning, and a reconciliation with his dying father in the years after he returned from serving as a sniper in the Marines. Adjusting to life after war, he watched his older brother succumb to cancer and his first marriage crumble, leading him to pursue an excessive lifestyle in Manhattan that brought him to the brink of collapse. Consumed by drugs, drinking, expensive cars, and women, Swofford lost almost everything and everyone that mattered to him. When a son is in trouble he hopes to turn to his greatest source of wisdom and support: his father. But Swofford and his father didn't exactly have that kind of relationship. The key, he realized, was to confront the man-a philandering, once hard-drinking, now terminally ill Vietnam vet he had struggled hard to understand and even harder to love. The two stubborn, strong-willed war vets embarked on a series of RV trips that quickly became a kind of reckoning in which Swofford took his father to task for a lifetime of infidelities and abuse. For many years Swofford had considered combat the decisive test of a man's greatness. With the understanding that came from these trips and the fateful encounter that took him to a like-minded woman named Christa, Swofford began to understand that becoming a father himself might be the ultimate measure of his life. Elegantly weaving his family's past with his own present-nights of excess and sexual conquest, visits with injured war veterans, and a near-fatal car crash--Swofford casts a courageous, insistent eye on both his father and himself in order to make sense of what his military service meant, and to decide, after nearly ending it, what his life can and should become as a man, a veteran, and a father.
The author weaves his experiences in war with vivid accounts of boot camp, reflections on the mythos of the marines, and remembrances of battles with lovers and family.
Anthony Swofford's Jarhead is the first Gulf War memoir by a frontline infantry marine, and it is a searing, unforgettable narrative. When the marines -- or "jarheads," as they call themselves -- were sent in 1990 to Saudi Arabia to fight the Iraqis, Swofford was there, with a hundred-pound pack on his shoulders and a sniper's rifle in his hands. It was one misery upon another. He lived in sand for six months, his girlfriend back home betrayed him for a scrawny hotel clerk, he was punished by boredom and fear, he considered suicide, he pulled a gun on one of his fellow marines, and he was shot at by both Iraqis and Americans. At the end of the war, Swofford hiked for miles through a landscape of incinerated Iraqi soldiers and later was nearly killed in a booby-trapped Iraqi bunker. Swofford weaves this experience of war with vivid accounts of boot camp (which included physical abuse by his drill instructor), reflections on the mythos of the marines, and remembrances of battles with lovers and family. As engagement with the Iraqis draws closer, he is forced to consider what it is to be an American, a soldier, a son of a soldier, and a man. Unlike the real-time print and television coverage of the Gulf War, which was highly scripted by the Pentagon, Swofford's account subverts the conventional wisdom that U. S. military interventions are now merely surgical insertions of superior forces that result in few American casualties. Jarheadinsists we remember the Americans who are in fact wounded or killed, the fields of smoking enemy corpses left behind, and the continuing difficulty that American soldiers have reentering civilian life. A harrowing yet inspiring portrait of a tormented consciousness struggling for inner peace,Jarheadwill elbow for room on that short shelf of American war classics that includes Philip Caputo's A Rumor of War and Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried,and be admired not only for the raw beauty of its prose but also for the depth of its pained heart.
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