I told myself, “Just because this is a short novella does not mean you are going to stay up late and read the whole thing at once.”
… And then I read the entire book at once.
Matthew Salesses’ The Last Repatriate is a Koren War story told from above. Teddy Dickerson, a heartbroken man from Virginia, endures three years in a POW camp before finally repatriating to America.
Imagine winter at the doorstep of Manchuria, Teddy with a black eye, bones like poles in a kite of skin. The POW camp is a wide stretch of land with a river guarding three sides, mountains beyond, barbed wire around the fourth, one small mud hut for every hundred prisoners. Teddy touches the ground near the fence. Frozen.
He transitions from one harsh climate for another, though no one seems to notice that his Hero’s Welcome in Virginia makes him uneasy. No, it’s not the same kind of harsh as the camp, but the unexpected (yet, dramatically expected) bristling at “normal life” leaves him feeling helpless. Especially faced with his ex-fiancee, now married to an implied abuser.
Salesses’ writing occupies the space between intimacy and detachment. We are inside Teddy’s memories, but we are not privvy to many of his thoughts. We see his actions, the actions of others, and we know that Teddy is wounded. He doesn’t have to literally tell us that he feels unworthy of honor or that he can’t shake off the darkness, but instead:
In the morning, Teddy walks into the kitchen as his mom cooks breakfast, the scent of bacon drawing him toward his first Southern meal in three years. When she turns to him, red-eyed, he asks her what the matter is. She looks back not moving, as if he’s forgotten her, as if he doesn’t know who she is, and he feels confused,, a coldness running up his arms.
The entire time, we’re only a few steps removed from the disorientation he feels. Salesses has written an excellent book, one I hope receives its due. It’s painful, touching, and all too real.
(Full Disclosure: I received this book via Twitter giveaway from the author.)
About the author:
Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus and Persephone Magazine, among others.