The impulse to turn the triumphs and the defeats of war into art dates back to the Iliad, and beyond. It’s safe to say that there hasn’t been a war in the history of human civilization that hasn’t spawned stories, true or invented—stories of battles, stories of soldiers, stories of bravery and of cowardice, of heroism and of betrayal, of death and of survival, stories of victors, and stories of victims. The conflicts in this handful of recent stories about war date back as far as the nineteen-forties and are as recent as the aughts. Uwem Akpan’s “My Parents’ Bedroom” takes us to a household in Rwanda, where the civil war between the Hutu and the Tutsi people is played out within one family. In Shani Boianjiu’s “Means of Suppressing Demonstrations,” we see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the eyes of a female Israeli soldier stationed at a highway checkpoint. In “Waiting for Death in a Hotel,” Italo Calvino takes us to an Italian hotel converted into a prison for captured partisans during the Second World War. Nathan Englander’s “Free Fruit for Young Widows” recounts a tale of tragedy and survival during the Holocaust. Annie Proulx, in “Tits-Up in a Ditch,” surveys the bleak trajectory of a Wyoming ranch girl who serves in the Iraq War. And “Kattekoppen,” by Will Mackin, looks at the gruesome absurdities of life at a remote SEAL outpost in Afghanistan. “Sometimes what went on gave normal men pause,” Mackin writes. “And if they paused we’d send them back and demand a replacement.”
—Deborah Treisman, fiction editor
“My Parents’ Bedroom”
“People are banging on our front door. I see the blades of machetes and axes stabbing through the door, making holes in the plywood. Two windows are smashed, and rifle butts and udufuni are poking in. I don’t know what’s going on.” Read more.
“Means of Suppressing Demonstrations”
“Lea, the officer, had stopped feeling her own body. She lay on top of an anti-sniper barricade, holding up a page from a newspaper, blocking the stars.” Read more.
“Waiting for Death in a Hotel”
“There was nothing about the big hotel, recently demoted to a barracks and a prison, that could give concrete shape to the inmates’ loss of freedom—no iron bars or high walls.” Read more.
“The Variety of ideas among soldiers developed into a variety of ideas among units, which necessitated an operational priority scheme. As SEAL Team Six, we were at the top of that scheme. Our ideas about the war were the war.” Read more.
“Tits-Up in a Ditch”
“Her grandfather drove her to the recruitment office in Crack Springs, harping all the way on duty, responsibility, the necessity of signing the papers so child support could come to them.” Read more.
“Free Fruit for Young Widows”
“He was using the same word aobut the same people in the same desert that had been used thousands of years before. The main difference, if the old stories were to be believed, was that God no longer raised His own fist in the fight.” Read more.