ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “God, Me and the Blackhorse” by Barry Beaven

God, Me and the Blackhorse by Barry Beaven

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

Doc Beaven belonged to a devout Christian family. Because of his faith he chose to be a non-combatant and became a medic who never carried or fired a weapon. After teaching medics he went to Viet-Nam where he was sent to the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the first and only independent Cavalry regiment in Viet-Nam. While only having 13,000 troopers during the war the regiment developed an elite reputation for combat and was commanded by the best of commanders, including George Patton’s son. Doc Beaven was awarded several decorations including the Purple Heart, and talks about life and the difficult choices in the war as well as the combat and those who served. Following the war, he became a physician and currently works in Correctional Medicine.

REVIEW:

I have always been cautious of wartime memoirs and even the more realistic wartime fiction, particularly those memoirs and fictions of the Vietnam War, but having taught several of Tim O’Brien’s books in freshman courses, I have a deep respect for the literature that came out of the Vietnam War. I saw how it worked upon my students. Mostly I taught core classes where very few of the students actually wanted to be there, but reading about Vietnam straightened more than a few backs. I’m cautious about reading books from that moment in history because … you can’t read them and remain unaffected. And as is perhaps to be expected for someone of a generation that has never seen a draft, I have no stomach for war.

I began God, Me and the Blackhorse before COVID-19 became the life-altering specter that it has become, and I’ll be honest: I had to put it aside for a couple of weeks when things here in Montana looked bleak. But it’s a compelling read, and once the new normal of working from home and so forth had fallen into place, I found myself drawn back to Barry Beaven’s voice and experiences in his memoir.

His story isn’t the typical one coming out of Vietnam, either, so I learned a great deal about the function and realities of being a noncombatant medic on the front lines. There were a lot of good surprises in reading this book. For example, I knew going in that Beaven had taken the medic path in part because of his religious beliefs, so I expected something more like the memoirs of wartime chaplains that I’ve read, which tend to have more to do with either falling out of faith (disillusionment) or distinctly preachy in tone, mapping the faith lessons of battle onto the peacetime lives of readers who have never been. There’s nothing wrong with those types of books; it’s just that my own religious upbringing means I’ve already read so very many of them.

Beaven is not preachy. His is also not a story of great disillusionment or loss of faith. From what I can tell, he had his reckonings, but he keeps his faith and is rightly proud of his decisions during that time to this day. His is the voice of a thoughtful observer, the kind who notices small details not just because they tended to save his life or help him save the lives of others on a regular basis, but because that’s the kind of storyteller he is. One of my favorite moments in which we watch Beaven watching others is this one:

We had a Spec 6 medic with the unit then. He was an LPN and basically ran the medics. Dr. Cupps was in charge, but the scut was run by him. He had this bad hand tremor that would shake constantly up until the moment he had to do something, and then it would smooth away. It was fun watching him suture or cut as he’d have this shaking needle heading for someone’s skin but then be totally smooth when the needle touched the skin

Through a wonderful command of the details, he perfectly reconstructs both his world and the many personalities moving through it during the wartime years. He summons the tedium of the endless patrols, punctured as it was by sudden bouts of hostile contact.

And yes, he paints a pretty good picture of the kind of emotional callouses combat medics have to develop in response to so much death. And while he puts his readers in that moment perfectly, Beaven the adult memoirist does draw back every now and again to comment upon the actions and thoughts of Beaven the young medic.

But it’s not a tedious read, I guarantee you. Beaven has a good sense for when to give his readers a bit of humor. I may or may not have laughed out loud (I admit nothing) when I read the line:

One of our squadron’s medics stole a jeep and drove to Saigon for a bash and sold it to pay for the party. We got him back but not the jeep.

It’s asides like this that make God, Me and the Blackhorse more than just another record of a hard time. And it’s Beaven’s personality that I find the most valuable aspect of this very interesting memoir.

IN SUMMARY:

Barry Beaven is one of those rare wartime memoirists who knows how to let a story breathe, and rarely does he try to tell his readers what to feel. Throughout God, Me and the Blackhorse, he documents the experiences and the emotion of working as a medic in Vietnam with a specificity of detail that those historical fiction authors who have not seen combat simply can’t replicate. Once you settle into Beaven’s voice and style, you find yourself running alongside him to the aid of the wounded amidst the thunder of enemy fire.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find God, Me and the Blackhorse wherever good books are sold, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also find out more about Barry Beaven’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

I’m trying out a lot of different things as I try to break myself out of a little bit of a recent reading rut: young adult literature, fantasy, and … sports fiction? I’m fascinated by the role American sports play in history and society, having grown up in large part abroad, so I’m digging into Patrick McLean’s A Sense of Urgency. I’m hoping this book will help me understand baseball, because even after fifteen years stateside, I’m only just now beginning to understand American football. Time to figure out another sport!

 

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Amazon book listing.


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ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “Tales of Invasions and Empires: Our Place in Time (c. 1100-1400)” by Kent Augustson

(POSTING TO SPA April 17th) Tales of Invasions and Empires

cipa evvy award

2019 CIPA EVVY Award

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

This is the first book in a trilogy offering an original interpretation of our place in time that makes the discord of the current day more comprehensible. This is accomplished using three devices.

First, recognizing that human history is the history of civilizations, we have identified four civilizations that, with their spread, account for about 85% of the world’s population today. These are Confucian China, Hindu India, the Muslim Middle East, and the Christian West. To gain an appreciation of these four is to know well today’s world and to glimpse where we are heading.

Second, we provide a unique time frame for the progress of these civilizations which expands upon German philosopher-historian Karl Jasper’s well-regarded argument for an Axial Age relating to love, morality and wisdom in the centuries surrounding 500 BC. We postulate a new Axial Age in our day that speaks to power.

Third, we make our simple but powerful hypothesis accessible by avoiding complex reasonings and endless accumulations of data. Rather, presented perceptively in each book are seventeen memorable tales about the civilizations that link to one another, interact with one another like a long novel of four families out of which our theme evolves. Beginning with 1100 AD when these civilizations start to meaningfully interrelate, the books cover three centuries apiece. The final chapter in this work provides a summation of how events in the 12th to 14th centuries directly relate to the present day.

REVIEW:

QUICK NOTE AT THE TOP: The world has changed somewhat since this book came out in 2018; in the last month alone, twenty million United States citizens have lost their jobs in one of the biggest economic downturns of all time, a reality that is echoed and magnified on a global scale. Whatever else COVID-19 does, it has done much to lay bare the systems of power that underpin daily life. And the fragility of our “modern” world. Augustson has dealt with several chunks of history in his books, including the 2014 publication of Our Place in Time: The New Axial Age and the Pivotal Years (2015-2020), which would be a better place to dig for his predictive insights into what’s happening now.

To return to this particular book: I’m always deeply appreciative when authors can manage to do three things: show their authority (and expertise) on a subject, make plain their personal bias without it compromising the book’s value, and produce a readable book. Augustson doesn’t lead with his thirty years in government affairs; I had to delve into the authors notes and so forth at the end. But it becomes pretty clear from early on that he knows what he’s doing so far as crafting a persuasive argument and backing it up with curated information that’s digestible to the common reader. There are charts. There are maps. There are structured chapters. But there’s also a kind of playfulness and a clear voice to the work which keeps it from feeling overwhelmingly textbooky.

Augustson starts with seventeen chapters about seventeen intersecting lives. Fair warning, though: he takes it for granted that readers are familiar with some terms that I personally hadn’t seen before (“Jaspers Age” being one, and “Axial Age” another). A little quality time with le Googl brought me up to speed, but it’s well worth taking a pause after the introduction to study the initial charts and timelines and lock in some of those terms before going further. I was set up well for this book by reading Keay’s history of China last year and having started Dalrymple’s The Anarchy more recently. (Not to mention all the Western Civ courses I took through high school and college, getting both the Commonwealth (Australian) and individualistic (American) takes on that third of Augustson’s four cornerstones. Once I finish Dalrymple, Augustson has inspired me to look for a book specifically on the history of Islam and Muslim culture; then I will have a better understanding of his four cornerstone civilizations.

Augustson’s grasp of the facts of history is one thing, but his ability to draw together the different threads of history in very different parts of the world by focusing on the intersecting lives of one or two individuals per chapter is what sets this history apart. Whatever you personally believe about the threefold ages Augustson argues in favor of, it is worth reading this book simply for the pleasure of seeing so many otherwise disparate lives wound so cleverly together. The fifteenth chapter, which deals with “Global Cold and the Black Death” is both hard and valuable to read on its own.

IN SUMMARY:

Augustson’s experience in government affairs is put to work in this mammoth installment of what could safely be called history with a bent towards interpretation, and he makes an interesting argument for the realization of humanity in three ages. Fair warning: This book weighs over a pound, so make sure to have set aside some serious reading time.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find Tales of Invasions and Empires wherever good books are sold, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also find out more about Kent Augustson’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

Regrettably, the far-reaching effects of the current global pandemic prevented me from finishing the book I had intended to review two weeks ago, so you can look for that review next Friday. It has been worth the extra time, however.  I’m speaking of Barry Beaven’s God, Me, and the Blackhorse, a hard-hitting memoir of war. (I know, I picked light subjects to review in a time of global unrest. Comforting.) I’ll see you all back here next week, then, and in the meantime I hope you stay safe and healthy.

 

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Amazon book listing.


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ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: The Realistic Optimist – A Collection of Essays by Ellie Bushweller

457827 Ellie Bushweller cover

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

This book was written by a person who has a full and active life as a wife, mother, grandmother, nurse, counselor and freelance writer. She has been a keen observer of many aspects of human interest.

It is a collection of essays that are concerned with a wide variety of topics. The essays are insightful, informative, humorous and hopeful.

This book should appeal to all those who are intrigued by all the joys and concerns that impact people’s daily lives.

REVIEW:

There are many essays out there in the world, and books like The Realistic Optimist are the best possible kind of persuasion I need to read more of them. Like many readers, my main exposure to the form came in college–first, as an undergraduate learning the basic definitions and structure, and then as a graduate student experimenting with genre expectations and strengthening my sentences. There were essays on supersonic planes, on oranges, on eclipses, on eating unprocessed foods, on shopping every store in the Mall of America, on sports, on hunting, and the list goes on. What there wasn’t, for the most part, was a collection of essays from a single author that captured my interest and felt like something more than a couple of really good works surrounded by filler.

Until now.

For most of a decade, Ellie Bushweller essayed for her local South Burlington’s The Other Paper. Her columns chronicled the daily lives of not just the people she met and the scenes she witnessed, but also the comings and goings of squirrels. Of seasons. Of one’s fellow bench-mates in the park. Of the tools and technologies that pass through our lives. Of time itself. Each of the roughly one hundred essays in this collection were written with conviction and heart, and while the occasional line indicates an essay’s origin in a newspaper column, the collection does not suffer from the change in delivery method.

It is fitting, I think, that The Other Paper would cover this collection of essays which it helped bring into the world with warmth and affection. There’s simply no reading of this book … and no encountering of Bushweller herself … without feeling touched by sunshine. One can easily see why and how she developed a loyal following among the newspaper subscribers of South Burlington.

Which isn’t to say that Bushweller hasn’t walked through some valleys and shadows and maybe even done dark alleys. After a childhood in Brooklyn, she grew into an adulthood as a nurse working to care for children and adults in a dilapidated city housing project. Still, despite life’s hardships witnessed and experienced daily, she clearly never closed her heart to the possibility of doing some good simply by being … a realistic optimist.

IN SUMMARY:

Come for the squirrel stories but stay for the bittersweet authenticity of a life lived with gusto and conviction, gentleness and generosity. The Realistic Optimist is rich with spirit and a balm in tough times. It is also a love letter to a decade of life in a specific time and place–South Burlington–that deserves witness.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find The Realistic Optimist wherever good books are sold, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also find out more about Ellie Bushweller’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

I’ll be going back to one of my wheelhouses, which is to say novel-length works of memoir and nonfiction. (Although frankly, I can fall in love with any genre if the writing is strong.) I’m working on a memoir of combat in Vietnam: God, Me and the Blackhorse by Barry Beaven. I tend to be deeply affected by stories of war, so I’m taking it slow and checking in and out of some other, lighter works … but I think Beaven’s will be the next book to make it into my reviews. You can catch those thoughts on Beaven’s book in two weeks here on Self Publishing Advisor.

 

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Amazon book listing.


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ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.