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Edited by Scott Moyers

New York Times Bestseller

“[Klay captures] on an intimate scale the ways in which the war in Iraq evoked a unique array of emotion, predicament and heartbreak. In Klay’s hands, Iraq comes across not merely as a theater of war but as a laboratory of the human condition in extremis. Redeployment is hilarious, biting, whipsawing and sad. It’s the best thing written so far on what the war did to people’s souls.” —Dexter Filkins, The New York Times Book Review

From former marine captain and Iraq veteran Phil Klay, a brilliant and hard-hitting collection focusing on the complexities of  life for soldiers on the front lines and after. Phil Klay’s Redeployment takes readers to the front lines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking us to understand what happened there and what happened to the soldiers who returned. Interwoven with themes of brutality and faith, guilt and fear, helplessness and survival, the characters in these stories struggle to make meaning out of chaos.

In “Redeployment,” a soldier who has had to shoot dogs because they were eating human corpses must learn what it is like to return to domestic life in suburbia, surrounded by people “who have no idea where Fallujah is, where three members of your platoon died.” In “After Action Report,” a lance corporal seeks expiation for a killing he didn’t commit in order that his best friend be unburdened. A mortuary affairs marine tells about his experiences collecting remains—of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers both. A chaplain sees his understanding of Christianity, and his ability to provide solace through religion, tested by the actions of a ferocious colonel. And in the darkly comic “Money as a Weapons System,” a young Foreign Service officer is given the absurd task of helping Iraqis improve their lives by teaching them to play baseball. These stories reveal the intricate combination of monotony, bureaucracy, comradeship, and violence that make up a soldier’s daily life at war and the isolation, remorse, and sense of displacement that can accompany a soldier’s homecoming.

Redeployment is poised to become a classic in the tradition of war writing. Across nations and continents, Klay sets in devastating relief the two worlds a soldier inhabits: one of extremes and one of loss. Written with a hard-eyed realism and stunning emotional depth, this work marks Phil Klay as one of the most talented new voices of his generation.


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“[Klay captures] on an intimate scale the ways in which the war in Iraq evoked a unique array of emotion, predicament and heartbreak. In Klay’s hands, Iraq comes across not merely as a theater of war but as a laboratory of the human condition in extremis. Redeployment is hilarious, biting, whipsawing and sad. It’s the best thing written so far on what the war did to people’s souls.” —Dexter Filkins, The New York Times Book Review

“In Redeployment, his searing debut collection of short stories, Phil Klay—a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, who served in Iraq during the surge—gives the civilian reader a visceral feeling for what it is like to be a soldier in a combat zone, and what it is like to return home, still reeling from the dislocations of war. Gritty, unsparing and fiercely observed, these stories leave us with a harrowing sense of the war in Iraq as it was experienced, day by day, by individual soldiers.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“The best literary work thus far written by a veteran of America’s recent wars….Klay’s fiction peels back every pretty falsehood and self-delusion in the encounter between veterans and the people for whom they supposedly fought.” —George Packer, The New Yorker

“An excellent, upsetting debut collection of short stories. Klay’s own view is everywhere, existential and practical, at home and abroad, distributed with wonderful clarity of voice and harrowing specificity of experience among Army chaplains, enlisted men, Foreign Service officers, members of Mortuary Affair, and more.” —Kathryn Schulz, New York Magazine

“The influences behind Mr. Klay’s writing go far beyond Iraq. At times Redeployment recapitulates the remarkably tender, self-conscious style that Tim O’Brien forged from his experiences in Vietnam…Mr. Klay is able to surprise and provoke….Mr. Klay gives a deeply disquieting view of a generation of soldiers reared on war’s most terrible contradictions.” The Wall Street Journal

“Klay—a Marine who served during the surge—has an eye and an ear for a single searing line of dialogue or a scene of maddening dissonance that can pierce your soul….Klay brilliantly manages to wring some sense out of the nonsensical—resulting in an extraordinary, if unnerving, literary feat.” Entertainment Weekly

“Klay’s closely observed debut collection of stories…makes a fine contribution….Klay establishes an impressive authority over his subject, which he maintains throughout the book in a clipped and jargon-laden prose.” San Francisco Chronicle

“One of the best debuts of the year.” Portland Oregonian

“In a book that’s drawing comparisons to classic war literature like Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, Klay examines the deep conflict, in all of us, between wanting to tell our stories and wanting to protect them from being diminished or misunderstood.” —Men’s Journal

“Phil Klay has written brilliant, true, and winning fiction on the Iraq War.” Daily Beast

“Perhaps the most vital short story collection to emerge in the past few years….Redeployment falls somewhere between the in-the-trenches lyricism of Kevin Powers’s The Yellow Birds and the bold satire of Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. And yet, it feels more urgent than both…. Redeployment is urgent, smart, and darkly comic.” —Grantland

“Klay grasps both tough-guy characterization and life spent in the field, yet he also mines the struggle of soldiers to be emotionally freed from the images they can’t stop seeing. It’s clear that Klay, himself a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who served in Iraq, has parlayed his insider’s knowledge of soldier-bonding and emotional scarring into a collection that proves a powerful statement on the nature of war, violence, and the nuances of human nature.” Publishers Weekly (starred)

“A sharp set of stories….Klay’s grasp of bureaucracy and bitter irony here rivals Joseph Heller and George Orwell….A no-nonsense and informed reckoning with combat.” Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“Important reading; pay attention.” —Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

“Harrowing at times and blackly comic at others, the author’s first collection could become for the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts what Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is for the Vietnam War.” —Lawrence Rungren, Library Journal

“If you want to know the real cost of war for those who do the fighting, read Redeployment. These stories say it all, with an eloquence and rare humanity that will simultaneously break your heart and give you reasons to hope.” —Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

“Klay’s writing is searing and powerful, unsparing of its characters and its readers…These stories demand and deserve our attention.” —Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia! and Vampires in the Lemon Grove

“As we try to understand the human costs of yet another foreign conflict, Phil Klay brings us the stories of the American combatants, told in a distinct, new, and powerful voice.” —Nathan Englander, author of What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

“Phil Klay’s stories are tightly wound psychological thrillers. The global wars of our last decade weave in and out of these affecting tales about characters who sound and feel like your neighbors. Klay comes to us through Leo Tolstoy, Ray Carver, and Ann Beattie. It’s a thrill to read a young writer so brilliantly parsing the complexities and vagaries of war. That he does so with surgical precision and artful zest makes this a must-read.” —Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead

“When the history of these times are finally shaken out, and the shredders have all been turned off, we will turn to writers like Phil Klay to finally understand the true nature of who we were, and where we have been, and where we are still going. He slips himself in under the skin of the war with a muscular language and an agile heart and a fair amount of complicated doubt. Redeployment will be one of the great story collections of recent times. Phil Klay is a writer of our times. I can’t wait to see what he does next.” —Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin

“To most, the war in Iraq is a finished chapter in history. Not so to the Marines, family members, and State Department employees in Phil Klay’s electrifying debut collection, Redeployment. Thanks to these provocative and haunting stories, the war will also become viscerally real to readers. Phil Klay is a powerful new voice and Redeployment stands tall with the best war writing of this decade.” —Siobhan Fallon, author of You Know When the Men Are Gone

Redeployment is fiction of a very high order. These are war stories, written with passion and urgency and consummate writerly skill. There’s a clarity here that’s lacerating in its precision and exhilaration in its effect.” —Patrick McGrath, author of Trauma

“These stories are surgically precise strikes to the heart; you can’t read them without recalling other classic takes on war and loss—Conrad, Herr, Hemingway. Klay maps the cast of our recent Middle East conflicts and illuminates its literal, and philosophical center: human casualty.” —Lea Carpenter, author of Eleven Days

“These are gorgeous stories—fierce, intelligent and heartbreaking. Phil Klay, a former Marine, brings us both the news from Iraq and the news from back home. His writing is bold and sure, and full of all sorts of authority—literary, military and just plain human. This is news we need to hear, from a new writer  we need to know about.” —Roxana Robinson, author of Sparta

Author Q&A

Phil Klay: Going Beyond Verisimilitude, a Q&A from Shelf Awareness

photo: Hanna Dunphy

Phil Klay is a graduate of Dartmouth College and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. He served in Iraq’s Anbar province during the surge as a public affairs officer. After his discharge, he went to Hunter College and received an MFA and attended NYU’s Veterans Writing Workshop. His story “Redeployment” was originally published in Granta and is included in Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek, the Daily Beast, Tin House and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012.

As you were writing, did you see yourself heading toward an entire collection of war stories, or did that happen later?

The first sentence I wrote was the first sentence of the book: “We shot dogs.” I didn’t know where I was heading, exactly, but I had a voice and a set of experiences I wanted to write about. Not personal experiences–just things people I had known had gone through that stayed in my mind. And not all of those fit into one story, or one perspective. I found that, to get at the different aspects of Iraq I wanted to explore, I had to approach from all these different angles.

One of the book’s strengths is the many different kinds of soldiers you write about, from lance corporals to officers, foreign service officers to chaplains, young to old.

That was very intentional. There’s a long tradition in war literature of veterans coming back and telling it like it is, like Paul Bäumer in All Quiet on the Western Front going to his former classroom and telling the students that there’s nothing good about dying for your country. Then there’s a tradition in war literature of vets that goes even further, like Tim O’Brien in The Things They Carried, explaining that at times a true war story can’t be believed by those who didn’t experience it because “sometimes it’s just beyond telling.” In both of these cases, the vet writer has the authority of experience, so there’s this divide set up between the veteran understanding of war reality and the civilian ignorance. I think of Robert Graves and Alan Hodge asserting that “by the end of 1918 there were two distinct Britains… the Fighting Forces… and the Rest,” or Siegfried Sassoon telling us that “The man who really endured the war at its worst was everlastingly differentiated from everyone except his fellow soldiers.”

The problem is that within that group of people who have been to war there’s as much variation of experience as there is within any other type of human activity. And I wanted to tease out some of those differences. The narrators of my stories interpret what they’ve been through in different ways. They go through radically different experiences and make very different choices. I wanted them to argue against each other and so open a place for the reader to enter in and engage. I don’t necessarily think that the person who has been through an experience gets to be the ultimate arbiter of what that experience means.

Is this why all of your stories are first-person narration?

Yes. I wanted to try to drill down into these heads and try to figure out how they’d been shaped by what they’d done. Besides, I found it fascinating. There are all these jobs and all these things people did that are incredible and strange. What is it like to be a chaplain in a dysfunctional unit? What is it like to be an artilleryman who never comes into contact with his targets? Exploring that raised all these questions for me. Questions about war and patriotism and masculinity and the relationship between the soldier and the citizen and the nation at war.

None of the stories are from an Iraqi perspective. Why not?

There are Iraqi characters in the book, and the relation of the various characters to the Iraqi people comes up in many of the stories, but I had a fairly specific intent with the collection and so a specific frame I was working within. I also wasn’t sure how I could have a lone Iraqi voice without having that seem to try to represent some unified Iraqi perspective, which was exactly the thing I was trying to avoid when talking about Marines.

There are many brutal and horrific scenes and episodes in the stories that are hard to take emotionally, like the Mortuary Affairs soldier collecting remains, or descriptions of soldiers being wounded or killed. How hard was it to write these passages?

I feel like it’s the things that you don’t want to think about that are often the things worth writing about. It’s very strange getting out of the Corps and then moving to New York, because there’s so little sense here that we’re a nation at war. And yet, people I knew were going overseas time and again. A few of them were injured. One Marine I had very briefly known died in an IED blast not long after I got out. It’s hard to wrap your head around. And then there’s the continuing violence in Iraq and its toll on the Iraqi population, which now you’re learning about through the news, the same as everyone else, but which you’re able to think about in a way you couldn’t while you were overseas because it was just too much.

A few stories deal with soldiers who are now back and adjusting.

It’s a radical transition for a variety of reasons. Even soldiers and Marines who haven’t been to war can find going from the military to the civilian world to be a surreal experience. And that is amplified considerably if you’ve been overseas. I think the contrast of the two cultures, civilian and military, can be revealing of both.

Why did you decide to join the Marines?

Because I was in my early 20s and I cared about public service and my nation was going to war. I knew our conduct overseas would impact millions of lives, primarily Iraqi and Afghan lives, and I wanted to do my part.

After your first round of service, had you considered staying in longer?

I extended a little bit beyond my initial obligation but I always figured I’d get out and go back to civilian life. I didn’t do that without any regrets. There’s a certain amount of guilt I felt, knowing that people with much harder jobs than mine were going on their fourth or fifth deployments.

Tell us about your participation in NYU’s Veterans Writing Workshop.

That’s where I found a group of really smart and talented veteran writers, like Roy Scranton and Perry O’Brien and Jake Siegel and Matt Gallagher, to share work and ideas with. It was a group of people who cared about the issues I did, and who’d argue them with me or recommend what to read or read my writing and tear it up with really smart, important edits. I couldn’t get away with certain types of BS that civilian readers would let me slide on. That said, I had civilian readers from Hunter who would pick up on different types of BS that the vets wouldn’t catch. Writing this book required a lot of conversations with a lot of people. I had to slowly learn how to write this book in order to write it.

Is there something(s) you think people don’t understand or grasp or appreciate as much as they should?

It’s not that there’s one thing I want people to understand about this war so much as I want people engaged with it. If you’re an American citizen, it’s your war. It’s not the soldier’s war, or the Marine’s war. The soldier and the Marine do not issue themselves orders.

War literature has been its own genre for some time now. What novels or stories do you feel are authentic and valuable and worth recommending to readers?

I don’t know if authenticity is always the first thing I’m looking for in literature, war related or otherwise. I wouldn’t call The Iliad an authentic portrait of the Trojan War any more than I’d call Richard III an authentic portrait of late 15th-century English politics. Jaroslav Hašek’s World War I novel The Good Soldier Svejk isn’t particularly interested in being realistic, so I don’t know how it fares on the question of authenticity, but it does have the virtue of being incredibly good. I’d like to think my book is authentic. I did a lot of research and talked to a lot of vets in order to get things as right as I could, but my ultimate aim was to do more than just achieve some kind of verisimilitude.

I’ll say this. Reading Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim was important to me and it informed my thinking while writing this book. That’s not really a war book, though. Then there’s Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry. Anthony Powell’s 12-volume sequence A Dance to the Music of Time. Seamus Heaney’s North and Station Island. Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic is less about war than about the work of crafting peace, but it’s a book I’ve thought about a lot since I finished reading it. Beer in the Snooker Club by Waguih Ghali is not really a war book, either, but there’s a long scene where two Egyptian characters go drinking with a British soldier that is also important to me. What else? Grant’s Memoirs. Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The war poetry of Kenneth Koch and James Dickey. Nathan Englander’s short stories. There’s plenty of great war or war-related writing.

So what’s next–more short stories or a novel, or perhaps nonfiction?

I’m working on a novel. We’ll see how it goes. —Tom Lavoie


We shot dogs. Not by accident. We did it on purpose and we called it Operation Scooby. I’m a dog person, so I thought about that a lot.

First time was instinct. I hear O’Leary go, “Jesus,” and there’s a skinny brown dog lapping up blood the same way he’d lap up water from a bowl. It wasn’t American blood, but still, there’s that dog, lapping it up. And that’s the last straw, I guess, and then it’s open season on dogs.

At the time you don’t think about it. You’re thinking about who’s in that house, what’s he armed with, how’s he gonna kill you, your buddies. You’re going block by block, fighting with rifles good to 550 meters and you’re killing people at five in a concrete box.

The thinking comes later, when they give you the time. See, it’s not a straight shot back, from war to the Jacksonville mall. When our deployment was up, they put us on TQ, this logistics base out in the desert, let us decompress a bit. I’m not sure what they meant by that. Decompress. We took it to mean jerk off a lot in the showers. Smoke a lot of cigarettes and play a lot of cards. And then they took us to Kuwait and put us on a commercial airliner to go home.

So there you are. You’ve been in a no-shit war zone and then you’re sitting in a plush chair looking up at a little nozzle shooting air conditioning, thinking, what the fuck? You’ve got a rifle between your knees, and so does everyone else. Some Marines got M9 pistols, but they take away your bayonets because you aren’t allowed to have knives on an airplane. Even though you’ve showered, you all look grimy and lean. Everybody’s hollow eyed and their cammies are beat to shit. And you sit there, and close your eyes, and think.

The problem is, your thoughts don’t come out in any kind of straight order. You don’t think, oh, I did A, then B, then C, then D. You try to think about home, then you’re in the torture house. You see the body parts in the locker and the retarded guy in the cage. He squawked like a chicken. His head was shrunk down to a coconut. It takes you awhile to remember Doc saying they’d shot mercury into his skull, and then it still doesn’t make any sense.

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