One thing that no-one considers when they sign on the dotted line to serve, is what they’ll do after this phase of their life is over. For those lucky ones amongst us, we’ll decide when it’s time to move on and what we’ll do next. For a percentage of us however, it’ll come around much quicker than we could ever anticipate.
That first day in uniform we’re 10ft tall and bullet proof – as we need to be, being a cohort who are aware that at some stage we are likely to put ourselves in an environment that is far more volatile than the suburban crawl we are accustomed too. But all too quickly our visions of service, adventure, mateship can be turned upside down by events beyond our control. Our bodies or minds, essential to our being as soldiers, suddenly catastrophically fails us. We find ourselves within an organisational health system that on the one hand is doing all it can to get us well again, yet with the other hand is gently opening the door to civilian life knowing that the likelihood of complete return to duties is not guaranteed.
For soldiers going through a medical transition, and their leaders and peers, it can be tough to find the perspective required to traverse this turbulent phase of a soldier’s life. Harry Parker’s Anatomy of a Soldier is a novel to guide your way during this time and then some.
Up front I should disclose a little something about the author, as it makes the brilliance and relevance of this novel all the more powerful. Parker is himself an Afghanistan veteran, who stepped on an IED in Helmand province in 2009 and is now a bilateral amputee. The parallels to Parker’s story and that of his protagonist CAPT Tom Barnes should not be discounted as what it creates is a junior leader memoire of sorts with a real difference.
Parker embraces the narrative licence that comes with works of fiction to express the journey of CAPT Barnes pre-deployment through to his recovery via narration in the first person of objects of importance at the given time. Chapter 1 for example is written from the perspective of his tourniquet, a later chapter the hand bag of his mother beside his bed in the Intensive Care Unit. This approach naturally creates a distance from the raw emotion that would have taken centre stage had the story been told from Barnes’ point of view. In this space the reader is able to really consider the central themes discussed; loss, shame, fear of failure, overcoming adversity, mateship, the power of humour and leadership to name just a few.
Parker’s attention to detail, ability to transport the reader to the setting he has constructed and fascinating timeline manipulation make the book feel one part memoire one part thriller and will keep you turning page after page to piece together Barnes’ journey.
I was truly moved by this book and, as a military physiotherapist, wish I had read it at the beginning of my career. It gives a glimpse into the patient’s perspective that I have not found anywhere else. But I assure you this is not just a book for healthies. If you are a commander at any level, a member going through a medical transition or just looking for a book that you will not be able to put down, Anatomy of a Soldier is what you’ve been looking for.
5 out of 5 nagging physios