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That Mad Game


I was lucky enough to have a copy of The Mad Game: Growing Up in a Warzone pressed into my hands a few months ago at ALA Midwinter. This collection of global voices is truly a unique title, a book on war that manages to include multiple ages, perspectives, and conflicts. Editor J.L. Powers has done an amazing job of collecting an array of individual narratives to dive into. Some will resonate more than others, but collectively they provide a powerful example of the lingering impact of war on the lives of children and teenagers. What so impressed me is that the children come from such diverse backgrounds; they are soldiers and civilians, from families who fled war or the children of those who fought in it. In ways big and small, subtle and obvious, their lives have been touched by combat and the message they share is serious stuff: you don't get over this, not completely, not ever. You just learn to live with what you know and somehow not let it destroy you.
In That Mad Game, we meet Phillip Cole Manor, who writes of fighting in Vietnam at the age of eighteen; Qais Akbar Omar, who grew up under the Taliban in Aghanistan; and Alia Yunis, who spent many of her childhood years in Beirut during the civil war. There is also Xiaomei Lucas, who grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution; Innocent Bisanabo, who fled wars across sub-Saharan Africa; and Rebecca Henderson, who recounts the lives of four teenagers forced to flee Burma. There are essays on Iraq, Iran, South Africa, Cambodia, El Salvador, and Bosnia. Every page is another history lesson, every paragraph another stark reminder of the price we pay for losing peace. "In the Middle East, the advent of war is as unpredictable as the rain," writes Yunis. "Each year the rain is needed desperately, but often it doesn't come. However there is never a drought when it comes to war. Every generation has its war or -- quite often -- wars."
It's easy to recommend That Mad Game to classrooms, but I read this book more to understand and empathize than to learn facts. Jerry Mathes writes of growing up with his father, who was away at Vietnam when he was just a baby, and shows how war can permeate a household and taint those who never know its pain firsthand. "...I realized that I lived among war's flotsam: fatigues, dress blues, rank and unit patches, ribbons, brass insignia, medals that hung on a plaque... Some sacred relics I showed my friends and pretended to know the meaning of what stories these things told." For all that he is mired in his father's war, however, Mathes cannot understand it and he cannot understand what became of his father there. "I have often wondered who the young man was in the photo on the beach or the groom in his uniform before he learned the language of war," he writes. And the reader is drawn into that wondering, into questioning who this man might have been if he had not become "intimate with suffering."
There are more than a dozen biographies in That Mad Game, memories shared, emotional scrapbooks revealed and, as in David Griffith's closing essay "Symphony No. 1 (In Memoriam, Dresden, 1945"), questions are asked that can never be answered. If we are lucky, we will never know what the contributors to Powers's collection have revealed. We will only have their record to better know what it was like; we will only have their sorrow to help us understand. Highly recommended.
- Coleen Mondor, March 28, 2013  Visit Website

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