A few weeks ago I submitted Prayer at Rumayla: A Novel of the Gulf War for review to the Podler, a book review blog. Last night the review came back, and it was far better than I could have anticipated.
Here’s the review, and I want to send my thanks over to the Podler for the very flattering review.
Original review posted here by the Podler
Profoundly moving, raw, exceptionally well executed vision into one man’s troubled heart as he deals with betrayal and the complexities of life after returning from the 1991 tour in Iraq.
In Prayer at Rumayla you will find an expertly written psychological thriller charting the slowly building resentment and psychological degradation of the protagonist, Private Brown. The story begins with betrayal and disappointment, this theme informing nearly every relationship that the protagonist has: that with his lover, with the Army life in the States, personified by a new and overly harsh sergeant, and finally with his remaining family. Brown is looking for a place of rest, for open arms after being wearied by combat, but finds no safe harbor-everyone, seemingly, is living for themselves, their lives too full to allow Brown even a slightest foothold:
In my room, I get another shock. Everything is gone. My clothes, books, my
photo album. Chris, what about my diaries! What the hell did she do with them!
I yank open the closet door – empty. The other one down the hall is filled with
towels and blankets. I throw it all out on the floor, searching for my things.
I don’t believe this. Seven years of journals gone – what kind of monster is she?
I sink to the floor and put my head in my hands. I wish I could cry.
What happens to such a man–a man who can find no rest in those who should give him peace? Indeed, having been altered by the experiences of war, can Brown ever find peace again? These questions permeate Prayer, with hints of violence presented as dangling causes, bits of dialogue, about killing the sergeant. But the violence is not something that Brown wants, it erupts of its own volition, an ugly monster created by his past, leaving Brown powerless to stop it.
Staring at the road ahead of me, I wonder what will happen.Jesus, I think I really hurt him. I couldn’t stop myself; I just got so angry. I don’t want to hurt anybody. I don’t want to hurt anybody. I don’t know what I’m going to do.
Unlike in many novels dealing with violence, violence in Prayer is well earned, evolving from the broken hearts and shattered dreams of the characters, being their desperate cry for help, a last stab back at the world that turns a cold shoulder to them. We understand why Brown is the way he is, and we even, if possible, feel a bit of sympathy with him: Brown is lost; having survived the close knit lifestyle of combat soldier, he returns home to find a void. And he’s not himself anymore, but a different man, one that he no longer understands.
Will he be able to find a foothold into a new life or will his life spin out of control and he end up crashing into the ground? Just when you think that Prayer is about to offer a cheap resolution, something by-the-numbers, you find that the ending is much more nuanced and thought out, evolving out of the story and the characters in it.
Prayer is easily one of the most impressive books reviewed in this blog. The writing is spectacular, the kind you’d expect to find in a mainstream novel, and this is somewhat disappointing because it demonstrates that mainstream publishing does not always publish books that deserve to be published.
I finished the second draft of “Murphy’s War” today. Hooray! Now its time to work on the third draft.
I’m actually taking a couple of days off from that project to work on brainstorming my next one. What kills me is that I’ve got four or five projects I want to get started on, but I have to pick one. That will keep me occupied for the next eighteen months or so at my glacial writing pace of one or two hours a day.
What I do is drag my posterior out of bed at 5 a.m. every morning, stumble downstairs, walk the dog, then write, coffee in hand, until 6:30. Then its time to wake up the family and get ready for work.
Unless, of course, a miracle happens, and I suddenly start selling 1000 copies a week of Rumayla, in which case I can quit my day job.
In any event, the new book, Murphy’s War, is about what happens when the Federal Government goes too far in its quest for security. Fun stuff.
So what’s next? I have some fine tuning and polishing to do, in the next two weeks, and will deliver it to my agent December 1. With lots of luck, we’ll find it on the bookstore shelves in about 18 months to two years.
Back to work.
by BRIAN TROMPETER
The Persian Gulf War seemed like a piece of cake to those who watched it on CNN.
The ground war lasted merely 100 hours, U.S. forces lost only 299 of nearly 468,000 deployed troops and Iraqi soldiers surrendered in droves.
Sheehan-Miles, 30, a soft-spoken Vienna area resident, wrote a novel, “Prayer at Rumayla,” to help him heal his psychological wounds.
The book’s protagonist, Chet Brown, struggles to overcome his war horrors.
Arriving back at Fort Stewart, Ga., Brown cannot adjust to civilian life and the stateside military. He arrives late for duty, but that’s only the beginning of his troubles.
His fiancee runs off with his best friend and the base is commanded by officers who disdain the returning Gulf War troops.
The book’s narrative is gripping, even to those who know little about the military, weapons or combat.
The novel is written in first-person present tense, alternating between Brown’s angry antics at home and blow-by-blow flashbacks of battle.
Sheehan-Miles has Army lingo and procedures down pat. The reader has the sense of being a green recruit who’d better get up to speed quickly. One mistake could get everybody killed.
If Chet Brown seems vulnerable even in his 60-ton, armor-sheathed M1A1 Abrams tank, imagine the plight of ill-equipped, poorly trained Iraqi soldiers facing such awesome forces.
The novel also captures the – well, let’s say chicken-poop – nature of the military, with its pointless inspections, drudgery and sadistic, score-settling officers.
Sheehan-Miles self-published the book and hopes it eventually will be picked up by a publisher.
Chris Kornkven, former president of the National Gulf War Resource Center and an Army medic during the war, said readers will benefit from the novel’s honest descriptions of battle.
“His book really puts to rest the myth the Gulf War was a videogame war,” Kornkven said. “It should be read by a lot of people who think today’s wars are neat, clean and antiseptic. It also should be read by people who wonder why soldiers change after they come home from war.”
Fairfax resident Paul Sullivan, who served in a scout platoon during the Gulf War, said the book shows why the country must care of its combat veterans.
“Coming home is more than a parade,” he said. “It means taking care of the soldiers not only with physical wounds of war, but mental health wounds as well.”
An Atlanta native and son of a Vietnam War veteran, Sheehan-Miles studied history at Georgia State University and joined the Army in 1990.
Assigned to the 24th Infantry division, he was deployed to Saudi Arabia in August 1990, just days after Iraq invaded Kuwait.
On the third day of the ground war, Sheehan-Miles fought at the Battle of Rumayla, an oil field located west of Basra, Iraq.
During the battle, U.S. forces blew up an Iraqi fuel truck, which splattered flaming fuel into a nearby truck loaded with soldiers.
The Iraqi soldiers, their clothing on fire, tried to run away, but were killed by machine gun fire.
Sheehan-Miles said it’s hard to live with shooting people in the back, but he and the other U.S. soldiers had no choice.
“In tactical terms, we did exactly the right thing,” he said. “You don’t let people come driving through your position.”
One of his unit’s tanks was destroyed in the chaotic battle; its crew escaped with minor injuries. Sheehan-Miles said the tank never should have been in a position to mix with enemy vehicles.
Sheehan-Miles left the military as a conscientious objector in 1992. “At one time, I envisioned a military career,” he said. “Killing people stopped that.”
After his discharge, he worked for American Technical Resources and Unisys Corp. before becoming a systems training engineer with Teligent Inc. in Vienna.
He lives in the Blueberry Hill subdivision with his wife Veronica and their children, Khalil and Amirah.
Sheehan-Miles also has been heavily involved in veterans’ issues. He was executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center and is a board member with the Education for Peace in Iraq Center.
He’s fought for a safer anthrax vaccine and championed the plight of soldiers who breathed radioactive dust from exploded depleted-uranium artillery shells.
He also forced the government to admit 120,000 soldiers were exposed to Sarin gas after U.S. forces blew up an Iraqi chemical dump.
Sheehan-Miles favors lifting the economic sanctions against Iraq, which by World Health Organization estimates have killed about 1 million people.
“It’s creating an entire generation of people who hate America,” he said. “Those people are going to come back to haunt us.”
Sheehan-Miles, who supported Ralph Nader during the 2000 presidential elections, said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the U.S. retaliations in Afghanistan have their roots in the Persian Gulf War.
“The Gulf War happened in large part because of corporate interests,” he said. “Our foreign policy shouldn’t be based on oil.”
“Prayer at Rumayla” costs $21.99 and will be available from booksellers on Jan. 17. Visit www.rumayla.com.
Sun-Gazette Home Page: http://www.sun-gazette.com/Original article:
By Jeffrey Horton
Prince George’s Sentinel, Friday, February 8, 2002
Never before have I read a novel that speaks with such straight forward honesty as Charles Sheehan-Miles’ new book, Prayer at Rumayla. Sheehan-Miles finally shows America an accurate glimpse of the fact that the Gulf War was actually a war. Forget all your memories of the three day fire works show you saw on CNN and live through the actual ground war that main character, Chet Brown, is trying to get over.
The novel starts with Brown coming back from Saudi Arabia and continues chronologically from then forward, but at the same time Brown’s memories and dreams go through an inter-spliced story of his personal war experience. It is all told from Brown’s first person perspective and Sheehan-Miles was more than generous in giving us Brown’s opinions on what is going on. And what is going is that Brown has been severely changed by going to war. He comes back to an America that continually laughs and jests about the supposed “ground war” in Iraq. Brown encounters people that just do not understand the horror that he went through. He is trying to come to terms with the fact that he is now and forever will be a killer but not even he completely knows his feelings on the subject. His own mind is battling with the adrenaline rush that he felt in the war; fear is building inside his mind about what people will think of the person he has become; and the person he has become is unwilling to talk to anyone about the experience. His world is liable to explode at any second and at points, he actually wishes he was back in his tank charging across Iraq.
As Brown’s life in America slowly unravels he thinks back to the war and how together everything was. He did not have time to think about what he was doing. Killing was his job and everybody around him was doing the same thing. Only they could understand him now. But in the end even that is questioned.
Sheehan-Miles develops an excellent plot between the two stories. The war story shows you how Brown has become the person he is, but inter-splicing it as a memory leaves a certain air of suspense. So as Brown’s former life slowly falls apart the reason behind his new personality also comes to light. He rejects everything that he used to love and seeks solace in the army. Only there do people understand what he has been through.
His writing is sharp and concise. It takes on the simple poesy of a modern day Hemingway, but gives the reader a better understanding by allowing the main character to think. Brown’s thoughts are full of confusion. His opinions on what he has done are back and forth and Sheehan-Miles manages to do this without pretentious interjections and long soliloquies. It allows for the reader to easily understand confusion.
What the book does for me is something a book has never done before. I am not sure whether it is because the book is about an event that actually happened during my life, but the book really changed my point of view of war in general. It seemed so much easier to watch a bunch of bombs drop from the air and destroy buildings that had “minimal” amounts of people in them. Sheehan-Miles, being a veteran of the Gulf War, showed me that people were actually killed, face to face, and with little remorse. Everybody views the Gulf War as such a victory. Prayer at Rumayla showed me that no war is a victory. As soon as the first person is shot somebody’s life is affected but most people just do not take the time to realize that.
Copyright 2002 Prince George’s Sentinel
By JOHN HANCHETTE
Gannett News Service, Friday, December 21, 2001
A new war novel – a bleak and disturbing remembrance of a past conflict that could contain intimations of the near future – has sprung up on an Internet publishing web site.
When it comes to war, sometimes even obscure fiction is more dead-on-target than the predictable flapdoodle of opinion pages.
“Prayer at Rumayla” is a scorching novel of the Gulf War, which America and allies fought with Iraq just over a decade ago after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in the late summer of 1990. This first novel is a work of pure psychological conflict.
The protagonist is Chet Brown, an intelligent, reflective ammo loader on a 24th Infantry Division M1A1 tank among the many that punched through Iraqi lines with devastating effectiveness in Operation Desert Storm.
Author Charles Sheehan-Miles alternates a blistering narrative with a hybrid stream of consciousness style to produce an account of front-line combat in vast contradiction of the sanitized version the Pentagon produced for TV consumption in 1991.
Gone are the game-like “smart” bomb videos, computerized reconstructions of death, and bloodless explosion photos from thousands of feet in the air.
They are replaced with the gritty, sometimes depressing, sometimes exhilarating, dangerous daily existence of a man who finds that gore and killing in the short term don’t really bother him as much as he thought – but in the long run drive him crazy with guilt, remorse, and self-directed anger.
Before long, the reader realizes Chet Brown is Sheehan-Miles, that such incantation of intensity comes from living it.
The author, in interview, admits the book is a roman a clef: “Yes, the wartime experiences are pretty much how it happened.”
Sheehan-Miles, indeed, was in the war. His experienced have been profiled in several documentaries and articles, including the Discovery Channel’s “Inside the Kill Box: Fighting the Gulf War,” former CIA analyst Patrick Eddington’s “Gassed in the Gulf,” and the controversial May 2000 piece by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker that detailed the post-ceasefire Battle of Rumayla.
Like many Gulf War troops, Chet Brown in the novel returns home from an exceedingly bloody experience to find adversity: his fiancée sleeping with his best friend, his Army colleagues who didn’t fight suspicious of his crusty demeanor. Worst of all, most Americans he meets believe it was all beer and skittles in the desert – a perfectly lovely adventure.
The reliable superiors he found in combat are replaced with sadistic and clueless morons – paper shufflers seeking to compensate for their wartime homeland status with bluster and intimidation.
Brown finds himself trapped in a downward spiral.
“I went through kind of a personal crisis after the war,” acknowledges the author. “It was because I did kill a number of people, after the war was officially over. I had to find a way to live with that. For me, it meant not to do it again.”
In real life, the author found a peacetime solution: honorable discharge in 1992 as a conscientious objector.
“I got nothing but support from most of my officers,” recalls Sheehan-Miles. “In terms of understanding, there was a significant contrast between those officers who had been in combat and those who hadn’t. It was a healing experience to write this. I did find it therapeutic.”
In the novel, Chet Brown finds an entirely different solution. It will not be recounted here.
“Prayer at Rumayla” is one of an increasing number of readable books that are self-published by Xlibris (a Random House partner) and other such firms. They used to be called “vanity houses.” In that format, the authors ordered a set number of books bound, paid big money, then usually found themselves mailing their works for free to friends and relatives along with holiday cards.
In the newest vogue, the author writes and edits the book, submits the manuscript, picks a format and cover, pays a reasonable fee, then retains all rights to the work as it is digitally stored. When someone orders a copy, that copy is printed, and shipped out, and the author gets a royalty. The books are then made available in online bookstores, and traditional bookstores that accept them.
As readers who follow current events are aware, American armed forced may soon find themselves back in the Persian Gulf. When President Bush warns that the war on terrorism will continue until wrongs are righted, many intelligence and military officials think of Iraq as the next “area of interest.”
“Prayer at Rumayla” could be déjà vu.
(The book can be obtained through www.rumayla.com)
———————-END OF REVIEW ——————–
“I wish I could be one of those people I see walking down the street, totally unconcerned, one of those people who manages to walk around without checking every corner for snipers, without looking at every bulge in someone’s jacket, questioning whether it hides a weapon. I wish I could be one of those people who could cry!” – From “Prayer at Rumayla,” by Charles Sheehan-Miles