Michael Pitre’s unforgettable debut, while not a memoir, is just as brutally honest as one in its depiction of the Iraq War, to which the author was twice deployed before leaving the Marine Corps in 2010. Pitre’s harrowing story centers on three men: two ex-Marines now forging new lives back in the States, and an Iraqi who served as their interpreter and is now trying to gain asylum in this country.
Lt. Pete Donovan was in charge of a Road Repair Platoon, whose daily mission was to fill potholes in the roads crisscrossing Al Anbar Province. The first step was checking them for IEDs: first in a five-meter circle in every direction, then 25 meters—the distance in which anyone on the ground would be killed if an IED exploded.
Lester “Doc” Pleasant was Donovan’s corpsman—the medical guy assigned to the platoon. When he returns to New Orleans after a dishonorable discharge for illegal procurement and use of drugs, Doc still carries his trauma bag with him everywhere . . . and keeps the programs from the memorial services of all his colleagues who died in chronological order in a cigar box, along with his dog tags.
Kateb, nicknamed Dodge by the Marines, was the platoon’s Iraqi interpreter. Immersed in American pop culture from heavy metal bands to Mark Twain, Dodge always carries a paperback copy of Huckleberry Finn in his back pocket—the subject of his thesis for a professor who was killed by insurgents.
In chapters alternating among the voices of these three men and moving back and forth in time, Pitre delves into the horrors they’ve experienced in the war and how they’re barely coping in the present. The novel is full of scenes that the reader will find hard to forget—like Doc frantically avoiding the New Year’s Day fireworks in New Orleans, their sounds like a machine-gun firing range; or Pete choosing to drink alone, since when his tongue loosens, “even the memories that seem funny in my head come out sounding like the summer vacation of a psychopath.”
Pitre’s depiction of the war, both in Iraq and in its reverberations back home, is obviously intensely personal—but at the same time, its messages are universal and timeless. Fives and Twenty-Fives is a highly recommended novel of this controversial and protracted war.