Book Review: Journal Of A Deserter

  • Author: Jacob Maccabee
  • Copyright Date: 2014
  • Publisher: Xlibris LLC
  • ISBN: 978-1-4931-5760-0
  • Amazon Link: Journal of a Deserter
  • Audio, e-book or foreign translation available: No Suitable for children: No

This is more a story of recovery than one of preparedness, but it does spend a bit of time on wilderness survival skills, and I expect many in the SurvivalBlog audience will appreciate the struggle. Besides that, depending on how the SHTF and what any given individual may experience, the recovery may need to be part of one’s life in the aftermath.

It should also be noted that while not an autobiography, it is pretty clear, from the author’s Prologue and from the contents of the novel, this is something which the author knows from first-hand experience. This is not someone just imposing their idea of war onto the audience. This is someone who has been through it. This is someone who has borne the burden and lived with the pain, and this is someone who has found a way back to being able to live with himself.

I do not believe any of the below will spoil the novel for a reader. The story is told through flashbacks, journal entries, and pieces of the present. More than anything, it is about the journey. Most of the below is the setting for the journey.

Master Corporal Walter Elrick was a Canadian soldier serving in Kandahar, Afghanistan. His role was running the supply system for his company and driving a 10,000-liter fuel truck to take care of his own camp’s generator farm and a Joint Signals Regiment in Kandahar City. That sort of truck makes a nice target, if you are looking to blow yourself up in a big way.

Walter’s truck was indeed targeted, but by luck his run was delayed until their window of opportunity was closed, and so the bomber settled instead for a UN convoy. Walter’s group got the job of towing those vehicles back to his own compound and dealing with the bodies and the knowledge that they themselves were the intended targets. In Walter’s mind one of those vehicles was to have been his own tomb.

Not only does he have that on his mind, but his local contractor, Sherife, had quickly become his right hand man, keeping things running smoothly inside the camp and with outside contacts, too. However, Sherife’s family convinced him he would make more money working for the Afghan National Police, so he left his job with Walter only to find himself being sodomized and abused in his new job. Convinced by his cousin that participation in homosexual acts was going to prevent him from going to paradise unless he died a martyr, Sherife puts on an explosive vest and sets out to make the infidels pay. It is MCpl Walter Elrick who shoots him down as Sherife tries to gun his motorcycle into their patrol, their eyes meeting as the double-tapped rounds impact Sherife’s chest.

These experiences, plus the helplessness of being caught under mortar fire with no shelter, become the material of Walter’s nightmares. His mind shifts, and he can no longer sleep well. Then his wife divorces him. He resorts to cocaine. He cannot do his job well. Back in Canada he has a desk job, but the papers just pile up in his in-box. He is prescribed Mefloquin, but that just seems to fuel the nightmares. Then Lorazepam. It is a veritable cocktail of drugs which are thrown at those suffering from PTSD, with suicide as a far too common “final solution”.

Walter recognizes that the drugs are destroying him, and he has no support from his superiors. To them he is weak. He is not standing up as a soldier should. Seeing what he is up against and how his life will probably end if he maintains this course, Walter decides to desert and go to the wilderness to find himself. This he plans very carefully and deliberately, so that his disappearance will go undetected for as long as possible and leave no clues as to where he went.

His desertion works as planned, but nature itself does not provide the healing Walter seeks. It is not until he meets the trapper, Normand, and is put on a spiritual journey that Walter finds the peace he has been seeking. His journey is a deeply personal one, as would be the case for anyone else. It is the direction taken that makes the difference, and it is a difference of life and death.

This book is a worthwhile read, and especially so for anyone who is wrestling with their own personal demons. It is abundantly clear that the author is writing from personal experience and is passionate about his subject matter.

Speaking as one with an editorial bent and a healthy inner stickler, I found a number of errors in grammar, spelling, and word choice, yet at the same time I found that those added to my ability to empathize with Walter. That may be from my own personal experience with a gentleman who has a Phd, yet war has taken much of his mind from him, and writing is one of his many struggles.

I did not note any profanity in this book, nor is there any sex, but there are some images of war which would not be suitable for children. Walter’s nightmares are not the sort of thing young folks should have to worry about.

The very end of the book is a bit of a conundrum to me, particularly regarding the use of the Word. It leaves more room for interpretation than I would really like. Even so, regardless of what is in store for Walter short term, his long-term future is assured.