essay from Time Magazine that would go so well with this novel.
In his classic story collection about the Vietnam War, Tim O'Brien wrote that what G.I.'s carried into battle was determined by necessity, specialty and rank, and "to some extent by superstition." Three decades later, the 145,000 Americans serving in Iraq rely on their own talismans to protect them from the barrage of sniper bullets, mortar fire and roadside bombs that have claimed the lives of more than 2,700 of their comrades. The Marines of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment spent much of this year deployed in Ramadi, the heart of the Sunni Triangle and one of the most dangerous outposts in Iraq. The things they carry are often emblems of love or faith, reminders of home and a higher purpose. PFC Phillip Busenlehner's good-luck charm is an angel pendant given to him by his best friend's mother last year before Busenlehner left for boot camp. The case it came in reads, "An angel to give you strength to overcome any challenge." The pendant has been blessed by three priests and the Pope.
Lance Corporal Richard Caseltine wears a dog tag that belonged to his grandfather, who fought in the Korean War. "It is older than I am and means the world to me," he says. "I haven't taken it off since I got it." He was wearing it on April 8 when a bullet hit him in the head. He survived and returned to duty. "God was with me and so was my grandfather," he says.
Corporal Michael Compton carries a plastic bag containing a pair of his wife's underwear. She gave it to him before his first deployment to Iraq, when they were still dating. "She said that she would stick by me," he says. But on a patrol outside Fallujah, the bag fell out of his pocket and blew away. "I thought it was long gone," he says. A week later, while "out in the middle of nowhere," he noticed a plastic bag and picked it up. The underwear was inside. "I couldn't believe it. I guess it was a sign because, sure enough, when I got back, me and my wife got married. I deployed again to Iraq, and I figured I should bring it with me. After all, if it found its way back to me, maybe it could guide me back to her."
I love this book, and my students typically do too. I try to prepare them for the structure of the book, as well as the idea that this is a book about truth and storytelling as much as it is a book about war. We spend time discussing the idea of story-truth vs. happening-truth, etc.
One activity I did with my students which worked nicely was character interviews, an idea I got from Carol Jago. Students were assigned a character, and then came up in front of the class (typically in groups of three or four) and were asked questions by the rest of the class as though they were the character. The students really enjoyed the activity, and it had them thinking deeply about character relationships and motivations, as well as using the text for questions and support. As I recall, we did it after reading, but you could really do it at any point(s) throughout the novel.
One thing that could add relevancy is comparing the book and the things/feelings the characters are going through and feeling to the current wars in the Middle East. Is there a soldier that you could have come to the class to discuss with students what being a soldier, etc. is like? I think tying it in with the wars that are going on now, making the things the read and see on the news more real, is a great way to show how literature reflects life.