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