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Review of

Terese Svoboda's Black Glasses Like Clark Kent

Graywolf Press 2008

By Liz Stephens

You tape two pages together and childishly fret. You want to never have to read them again. Or you don't do this, and risk on the thumbing-through the fine print of horror leaping out, because you know where to look now. Don't kid yourself. You know just where on the page it says what it says. Right there. Right there.

You know what it says. You know what soldiers do. In every war, without the conscience of mothers and sisters at their shoulders. To other mothers and sisters, to other men. You know about the experiment at Stanford that had to be cancelled after six days due to the inhumanity of the students playing guards. You've read Lord of the Flies back when you were young enough to think it was a warning from the teacher not to, I don't know, drop out or something.

But as it turns out, dropping out of high school is nothing (as insufficient a rebellion as taping together pages, pretending you don't know what you know). We never can opt out, drop out, of our humanity, a species and state of being to which we are consigned for good. That's what the teacher meant. So we are not these soldiers and yet.

The soldiers threw candy out of their jeeps. But I've read Svoboda's book, and all I can imagine after the candy is the soldiers running over the hands of those who reach for it. Of course this is unfair. There are a few bad people and many good people, at war and at peace. At Abu Ghraib. At Vietnam. In every trench in time. On both sides.

Besides that, as Terese Svoboda points out in this book about her uncle, who was an MP prison guard in post-war Japan, who unravels at the unveiling of the news of Abu Ghraib from a healthy older man to a wreck of post-traumatic stress, to a clanging haunted house of echoes, from a tall-tale teller to a whisperer of hints of hangings to a suicide, we do “pay for the terror and torture with the minds of our soldiers.”

And they are all our sons and daughters after all, we their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. And we know that, we know who we are. We made them.


Liz Stephens is a doctoral candidate in nonfiction at Ohio University. She was a finalist for 2008's Annie Dillard Award in Creative Nonfiction.