I WOULD LIKE TO ACQUAINT YOU with the fact that former Marine captain Michael Pitre is a fine judge of boating books. Pitre, who served two terms in Iraq, has written a novel based on his experiences over there. It’s called Fives and Twenty-Fives (Bloomsbury) and has received high praise in the literary world as one of the great novels of war. In fact, Kirkus Reviews goes as far as to describe Pitre’s book as “one of the definitive renderings of the Iraq experience.”
I mention all this for good reason. On page 5 of the book, the hero of the story talks about a neatly organized stack of books that constitutes his ever-expanding sailboat research library. And he says: “John Vigor’s Twenty Small Sailboats to Take You Anywhere sits atop the pile, catching my attention first.”
Page 5! So near the beginning! Be still, my heart! I have never been mentioned in a novel before, let alone so close to the start.
Pitre’s hero adds: “I reach for Vigor’s book, though I know it almost by heart at this point.”
What a perspicacious author this Michael Pitre is. What keen judgment he displays. Who could be more acutely perceptive? What an excellent choice he made in keeping Twenty Small Sailboats right on the top of his protagonist’s pile of boating books.
And what can I do by way of returning the compliment, other than to recommend with the greatest sincerity that you rush out and buy his novel? The book views the conflict in Iraq from the unusual perspective of a platoon of Marines whose job is to fill potholes in Anbar Province during the bloodiest period of the war. That’s more dangerous than you might expect, because every pothole is booby-trapped with an explosive device.
Fives and Twenty-Fives often reads more like a personal memoir than a conventional novel, and apart from describing many suspenseful moments on Iraq’s treacherous highways, it also delves into the problems faced by servicemen returning home from that life-changing conflict.
Pitre himself quit the Marines in 2010 to study for his MBA at Loyola and now lives in New Orleans. I can only hope that his novel tops the New York Times best-seller list — and, incidentally, makes millions of readers aware of another splendid book mentioned on page 5.
Fame, we may understand is no sure test of merit, but only a probability of such: it is an accident, not a property of a man.
— Carlyle, Essays: Goethe
I was laying on the green,
A small English book I seen.
As Carlyle’s Essay on Burns was the name of the edition,
I left it laying in exactly the same position.
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