Going from peace to war can make a young man into a warrior. Going from war to peace can destroy him.
Conrad Farrell has no family military heritage, but as a classics major at Williams College, he has encountered the powerful appeal of the Marine Corps ethic. "Semper Fidelis" comes straight from the ancient world, from Sparta, where every citizen doubled as a full-time soldier. When Conrad graduates, he joins the Marines to continue a long tradition of honor, courage, and commitment.
As Roxana Robinson's new novel, Sparta, begins, Conrad has just returned home to Katonah, New York, after four years in Iraq, and he's beginning to learn that something has changed in his landscape. Something has gone wrong, though things should be fine: he hasn't been shot or wounded; he's never had psychological troubles--he shouldn't have PTSD. But as he attempts to reconnect with his family and his girlfriend and to find his footing in the civilian world, he learns how hard it is to return to the people and places he used to love. His life becomes increasingly difficult to negotiate: he can't imagine his future, can't recover his past, and can't bring himself to occupy his present. As weeks turn into months, Conrad feels himself trapped in a life that's constrictive and incomprehensible, and he fears that his growing rage will have irreparable consequences.
Suspenseful, compassionate, and perceptive, Sparta captures the nuances of the unique estrangement that modern soldiers face as they attempt to rejoin the society they've fought for. Billy Collins writes that Roxana Robinson is "a master at . . . the work of excavating the truths about ourselves"; The Washington Post's Jonathan Yardley calls her "one of our best writers." In Sparta, with the powerful insight and acuity that marked her earlier books (Cost, Sweetwater, and A Perfect Stranger, among others), Robinson explores the life of a veteran and delivers her best book yet.
A Washington Post Notable Fiction Book of 2013
Robinson's fifth novel (following Cost) is a detailed examination of the inner life of a Marine returning home after combat. Classics scholar Conrad Farrell, wanting to do "something big," enlists in the belief that, as a soldier, he will be continuing a tradition going back to the ancient world. Following officer training at Quantico, Va., and four years of service in Iraq, he finds coming back to his family in Westchester, N.Y., a disorienting experience. He can't get used to the safety of civilian life and struggles to reconnect with his family and his girlfriend, Claire, feeling overcome by rage at unexpected moments. He stays in contact, though, with the men who served under him. Suspecting that he's suffering from PTSD, Conrad contacts the VA, but his needs are ignored again and again. Robinson brings us deep inside Conrad's soul, and inside the suffocating despair and frustration that can stalk soldiers even when they are ostensibly out of harm's way. By letting the reader live in Conrad's skin, Robinson creates a moving chronicle of how we fail our returning troops.