From Baghdad to America: Life Lessons from a Dog Named Lava

Greasy Lake and Other Stories - T.C. Boyle I had just finished reading [b:From Baghdad to America: Life Lessons from a Dog Named Lava|3827730|From Baghdad to America Life Lessons from a Dog Named Lava|Jay Kopelman||13633378] when I picked this up. So, with my head still full of puppy Lava love, I expected (and wanted) this sequel to tell me more about Lava's cute doggie antics and his happy life ever after in the States. That and only that. I wanted his traumatic life in Baghdad to have ended forever. But life is not a fairy tale.

As Kopelman said, war changes people. Dogs, too.

In this sequel, Kopelman tells us about his and Lava's transition into civilian life. We read how Kopelman sees himself mirrored in Lava's own reality with PTSD and the steps they are taking to get better.

We come to understand how redeployed soldiers view civilians and civilian life through eyes that had just seen the atrocities of war, their struggle to understand why life goes on here while their buddies die and get maimed in Iraq, their sense of loss, and feeling out of place even in most familiar surroundings. Many war veterans come home, leave Iraq (and Afghanistan) behind, but Iraq does not leave them. The States feels like a foreign country. They would rather go back to Iraq. It may not be home, but it's where they now fit in.

Here in the States, we, civilians, hear stories of veterans who are not adjusting well to civilian life. We think them of them as crazies or, worse, pitiful drunks or drug addicts. Kopelman knows this, and he kindly acknowledges that civilians cannot know what veterans have gone through and still go through. He cannot blame us, he says. I agree. How would we know? We can never know exactly, but we can and should make the effort to learn to see their struggles from their point of view, not to pity them but to love and understand them. Kopelman's story helps us with that.

This book is also for veterans. Kopelman remains committed to his leadership role. He identifies problems within the military culture that creates this idea that to acknowledge a problem is to acknowledge weakness, and to seek help is to somehow give up your warrior status. Kopelman encourages these warriors to seek help by going to therapy himself. He doesn't think he has PTSD. Lava does. But he goes through therapy nevertheless.

"The experience of therapy has been . . . well, frankly, unsettling. I've opened myself up to a complete stranger and answered questions even Lava knows better than to ask me. If it helps any of my fellow Marines to realize that help is not a four-letter word, though, it will be worthwhile" (p. 149)

Stories of Lava can be found throughout the book, don't worry. You'll find out more about his personality and life as an American dog. All I can say is, I love him all the more.

Kopelman also graciously shares some letters from other veterans (WWII, Korea, Iraq) who shared their own stories about their dog bestfriends in foreign countries during their deployment. I love these letters, and I wish there were more of them. A project for a new book perhaps? :)