While “Shooting War” is a frightening, imaginative, graphically fantastic look at how Iraq just might be in 2011, Birding Babylon: A Soldier’s Journal From Iraq (Sierra Club Books), is one perspective of how it looked just last year. But instead of focusing on the grim face of a desert ravaged by war and death, the book is the tale of one soldier’s obsession with nature. An outcropping of Connecticut Army National Guardsman and Sergeant First Class Jonathan Trouern-Trend’s war-time blog, Birding Babylon, the recently released book looks beyond the barbed wire in search of the life that was all around him during his yearlong tour of duty in Iraq.
What’s particularly lovely about this book is Trouern-Trend’s intentional near-omission of doom and gloom (though from his hints we know that he really was in the thick of it all). Stationed on a base that saw daily rocket and mortar attacks and positioned in a job that had him traveling to all corners of the country, he preferred to focus on the flora and fauna that were alternately so familiar and so exotic. “In Iraq there are ten thousand ways to see the world,” he writes. “I consider myself lucky to have seen it through the eyes of a naturalist.” By trading in violence and chaos for natural beauty, Trouern-Trend focuses on what he describes as the “resiliency of life…in the face of crisis.” If it’s possible for a soldier’s wartime blog to be sweet, this one certainly is.
P.S. A shout out to Dan Goldman for dressing Shooting War’s Jimmy in a TreeHugger tank in Chapter 4. Word!