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Book Review: Fragments from Iraq by Zsolt T. Stockinger

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“[W]hen Allah created hell, it wasn’t terrible enough, so he made Iraq – and added flies.”
–Old Arab saying (page 81).

Fragments from Iraq: Diary of a Navy Trauma Surgeon by Zsolt T. Stockinger is an account of the daily life of a trauma surgeon on the front lines. The book is in diary format written by the doctor, seemingly as if he were talking to his wife.

Stockinger, a Navy trauma surgeon, served from February 2005 to March 2006 on Iraq’s Sunni Triangle. During this time he performed hundreds of surgeries and treated thousands of patients. In his diary, Dr. Stockinger shares with the reader his thoughts and experiences.

The diary offers an insightful look into daily military life from the perspective of a top trauma surgeon, relating the daily activities the surgeon encountered in his base in Iraq: from the boring daily routine, to the military’s “hurry up and wait” mentality, to the serious injuries, whether from IEDs, to local babies, self-inflicted wounds and more.

Fragments from Iraq is written in an informal style, but it seemed to me that it was edited and maybe sanitized to make it more palatable to a larger audience. Personally I see no need for doing so; people who are interested in reading this book do not want a sanitized version.

Dr. Stockinger is a talented writer; his self-effacing humor and charm come through the pages. The narrative moves from medical jargon, to front line anecdotes tangled with “let’s not take ourselves too seriously” manly bravado, to the absurdity of the military bureaucracy.

Being an old soldier myself, I couldn’t get over some of the unbelievable stupidity which I read is done – I assume in the name of the Almighty Buck. For example: set chow times. Dr. Stockinger keeps talking about set times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Now, being a lowly First Sergeant I don’t know much
about tactics, but I do know that if you want to hurt a lot of people, you destroy areas where they all gather.

You know, like the mess hall – which is why the mess hall should be opened 24/7, especially in a dynamic environment. This, among other blatant security gaps, really struck a nerve with me, putting the lives of our troops in danger so someone could make a few extra bucks.

The book is printed in large format (9.9″ x 6.9″), but don’t let the number of pages fool you. Each page is probably equal to two pages in a book printed the size we are used to.

Overall, Fragments from Iraq is a thoughtful and interesting read, peppered with the good doctor’s own photographs (some gruesome but none shocking). If you were never on the battlefield and want to know what it’s like to save lives from a reliable and entertaining first-hand source, this book is for you.

  • 255 pages
  • Publisher: Mcfarland
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 078646951X

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