The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows by Brian Castner

Brian Castner's Iraq War memoir cuts between gruesome battlefield scenes and a civilian life haunted by symptoms of blast-triggered traumatic brain injury.

(Doubleday, $26)

“On a good day in Iraq, Brian Castner disarmed roadside bombs,” said Jim Higgins in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. On bad days, he combed through the aftermath of such devices’ explosions, counting right hands among the body parts to tally casualties, which on the very worst days included his comrades in an Explosive Ordnance Disposal team. The title of Castner’s raw, compelling new Iraq War memoir refers to the occasions when a member of the team, dressed in 80 pounds of Kevlar, was sent alone to defuse an explosive device in a last-resort, close-up encounter with potential obliteration. The trauma of the work stayed with Castner. Back home, helping his son put on gear for a hockey game triggers a flashback, and he sobs. “I just put my 7-year-old son in a bomb suit,” he writes.

“At times, The Long Walk is almost unbearable to read,” said Katie Bacon in The Boston Globe. Not for Castner’s “often excellent” writing, but because of his “brutally vivid descriptions of the war and the way it tore apart his mind and his life.” He cuts between the gruesome battlefield scenes and his haunted civilian life, where he suffers from what he calls “the Crazy”—symptoms of blast-triggered traumatic brain injury. Castner “makes it painfully clear how much of himself he has lost.” Though “he can remember with precision nightmarish details of what he saw and did in Iraq, he can no longer remember things like the births of his children.”

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This is “not the typical testosterone-driven account that plagues the war-memoir genre,” said Chloe Fox in By giving “equal, if not more, weight to the time and effort that goes into readjusting to his family life,” this book does readers a great service by making tangible the “complicated and tortuous emotional adventure” that military families experience. You may end up yearning for greater insight into how Castner avoided being crushed by psychic trauma, but that’s a minor criticism. “Castner’s experience isn’t everyone’s, but a memoir like his can help bridge that gap between civilians and today’s military.”

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