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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Stay Calm: This is War by A.J. Lecours is a “fictional” deep dive into the mind and psyche of a “grunt” soldier serving in Afghanistan. The reader is taken through the travails, excitement, terror, and crushing boredom that entails the daily life of an ordinary soldier as he or she completes their tour of duty. Everything is laid out to enable the reader to perhaps gain some insight into the difficulty and angst that we put our servicemen and women through, not only on the battlefield but many long years after they return from their tours of duty. The author will explain the minutiae of their daily lives, right down to the equipment they are expected to wear and carry in the often intolerable heat, through their food, their sleeping arrangements, to how they cope with the long, boring periods of inaction that are such an integral part of a soldier’s life. Using copious amounts of dark humor, sarcasm, and self-deprecation, the reader will be drawn into a life that few of us ever have to experience or indeed ever want to experience. Surviving a tour of duty in Afghanistan is so much more than avoiding the IEDs on the roadside, the suicide-vested civilians, the snipers, and the mortar attacks. It is also about coming to terms with why you are there and accepting that your personal impact will only ever be minimal – what is more important is your survival, preferably in one piece, both mentally and physically.
Stay Calm is a cutting, close-to-the-bone treatise on the struggles of the individual in perhaps the most foreign environment we can ever find ourselves – a war zone, far from home, in a country where few speak your language and the combatants are often impossible to discern from the innocents. A.J. Lecours's style of black humor and sarcasm drags the reader into a face-to-face meeting using a technique that can best be described as an “aside to the camera” by a narrator. It is the perfect medium for telling this story with deep impact. As a reader, I found myself riveted to this account of simple army life that was so compelling it was impossible to put the book down. Despite the humor, the chuckles, and the odd belly laugh the author was able to elicit, there was also deep meaning and horror at the senselessness of it all. One passage, in particular (among many), will stick in my mind for a long, long time. Describing the emotions of combat, the author says: “This dichotomy of emotions, I’d say, is the most quintessential of army experiences. Love and excitement, perfectly interchangeable with fear and loathing into a maelstrom of what it means to live.” The lessons to be learned from this short, pithy read are too many to enumerate in a short review. Needless to say, if you’ve never known what it is to serve in a combat zone, read this book and you’ll discover an inkling. Similarly, if you have served, read this book and likely you’ll see yourself in the characters. Few stories have moved me as much as this one in recent years. I highly recommend you read this book.