Home and Away: A Story of Family in a Time of War
Center Street, 2011
272 pp., $14.99
Home and Away
If the point of writing a memoir is to use your story to talk about some greater theme, then David and Nancy French's Home and Away is about sacrifice. David is a Harvard-educated lawyer who left his job as president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in 2006—at age 37—to join the Army Reserves, because he could "no longer in good conscience support a war [he] couldn't fight." His wife, Nancy, with understandable trepidation and enormous faith, supported him. After being commissioned, he volunteered for deployment in Iraq as a judge advocate with the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, America's longest-serving combat regiment.
The Frenches are funny, incisive writers, never straying into overly sentimental territory. The book winsomely recounts their sometimes comical, often touching daily lives: buying a dog for the kids from fancy dog breeders, stumping for a Mormon Yankee governor in Tennessee, being crammed into armored vehicles, seeing World of Warcraft triumph over Rock Band as the base's game of choice. They let us peek in on their communication, misunderstandings, and deep love for one another.
While the integrity of the authors' decision to go beyond mere patriotic words toward real and risky action is inspiring, at times the book suffers from an overdose of political commentary. Nancy admits that "politics bound us together in the way some couples play golf or watch movies," and the Frenches are well known in the conservative political world: David is senior legal counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, and he and Nancy (whose previous books include the memoir A Red State of Mind) campaign for Mitt Romney, run the popular Evangelicals for Mitt blog, and are regular commentators in publications such as National Review.
But if their goal in writing the book was to help "give a more complete picture of modern war" to skeptics as well as supporters, they would have been wiser to skip the occasional rants about "the absolute idiocy of cultural relativism and the politically correct incompetence of our own government." That particular rant appears in a chapter which makes a nonpartisan point: bureaucratic language obscures the often ugly ferocity of war and thereby dehumanizes its participants.
Still, these down-to-earth stories will amuse, encourage, and possibly even help heal those who've had (or are about to undergo) the same experience as the French family. For all its genial good humor, Home and Away confronts the tough issues military families must face: keeping a marriage together, learning to fend for oneself while apart, dealing with the deaths of friends and dreams. It's not War and Peace, but it's certainly very real.
Alissa Wilkinson edits Comment and teaches English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. Her articles and criticism appear in Christianity Today, World, Paste, and other publications.
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