Helen Thorpe in Fraser Friday to discuss Soldier Girls
History Chat with Helen Thorpe
7 p.m., Friday September 9
Fraser Historic Church, Eisenhower Ave.
$5 - $10 Suggested Donation
Helen Thorpe’s radio stories air on This American Life. She is also the author of Just Like Us and lives in Denver with her young son.
Helen Thorpe will be in Fraser on Friday evening to discuss her book, Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War.
Thorpe wrote this book to help bridge the gap between civilian and military life, she said. She sees the divide in the country between people in military and the rest of society.
Her motivation for the book and book tour: that veterans don’t feel alone. The burden of the conflicts fall on a small part of society and civilians didn’t understand what they were going through, Thorpe said.
Soldier Girls examines the lives of three women who represent different generations in the National Guard and later deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq. The women are so completely different politically and yet they become like family and detail their lives in the combat zone.
In the first part of the book, readers will worry about the women, said Thorpe.
“You will worry about Michelle’s friendship with Desma, who is acting out and is angry about being deployed and having to leave her children. Desma is not always a great soldier and gets in trouble. As you go on, you will be surprised to see how Desma emerges as the hero.”
Desma Brooks goes to Iraq and is deployed with a previous all-male unit.
“It is a momentous event,” said Thorpe.
“What women lived through being deployed is historic and pioneering and not written about very much. She is a single mom with three school-aged children. Another topic not talked about much is that 16 percent of soldiers are single moms.”
Desma had two deployments and must balance her role as a soldier and mom, all while feeling as though she failed, said Thorpe.
We read about what men have experienced but not about women, she said.
“Desma represents one of the heroes to come back from these two conflicts and she doesn’t look like anything we would expect: she is single, she is worrying about her son’s cell phone while driving a truck in Iraq.”
She comes home with PTSD and her second therapist really helped her, over time, to find some peace, Thorpe said.
“That was what I wanted to write about; how hard it was and what helped.”
This week, Thorpe was in Louisiana meeting with Louisiana State University (LSU) students who are enrolled in a multi-disciplinary class focusing on a Wartime theme in the honors college. The faculty of the program chose Soldier Girls for all incoming freshmen in the program to read.
“There is a large body of fiction and nonfiction coming out of the two conflicts,” said Thorpe. “There is a tendency for readers to shy away from difficult subjects. People are starting to notice the books written by veterans.”
Thorpe met with classes and had the chance to talk to students about this issue.
“The cross-discipline approach is unique in that there is a variety of backgrounds of faculty members contributing to the Wartime theme,” Thorpe said.
“One faculty member is a psychologist with a background is PTSD. He works with Vietnam veterans and trains people who are working with current veterans of the conflicts. He is an expert in his field and brings so much to the faculty. Several English professors are familiar with narrative nonfiction and others with fiction. LSU has a long history with the military and their history professors contribute to the classes.”
“Soldier Girls was chosen for the program because it is a book that students can relate to. Michelle enlists to pay for college. Even if these students don’t enlist, college students can understand her motivations. Readers will be curious from the beginning about what will happen when she enlists prior to 9/11.”
During the event on Friday Thorpe will discuss the women’s backgrounds and how she came to write this book about them. She will talk about narrative nonfiction, what the genre does and authors who have inspired her.
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