Max is only seventeen at the beginning of this saga. His life has fallen apart because of his own bad decisions. He’s been kicked out of his own band. He’s given up on education. His landlord has locked him out of his room and is selling off his possessions on the curb, and even his girlfriend has left him. He seeks to save himself by joining the Army, like the heroes of the war movies he watches. This is a novel inspired by a true story, and that definition explains many of the book’s difficulties. If this book is a novel, then readers may justifiably complain that the supporting characters are not well-enough developed. If it’s a memoir, then it lacks sufficient introspection The main character fails to fully convey the angst of a homeless teenager or the emotional impact of the horrors of war.
The details will not please an older generation of readers, who will be befuddled by the numerous mentions of music and films they do not recognize. Others will complain that there is too much sex, too much drug use, too many tattoos, too many swear words, including that f-one. In short, there’s too much punk and too many punk rockers. Much of the success of a book comes from the story’s ability to pull the reader into the narrative. The post 9/11 rock music scene is a pretty far stretch for most baby-boomers.
The book will not please the grammarians—those who notice every error of punctuation and chronology. Nor will it please those who expect an author to follow all the rules of writing, whatever those may be. The philosophers won’t like Max’s over-simplification of cosmic crises. And the book will not satisfy those looking for a typical coming-of-age narrative. Max is unlikeable at the beginning of the book, and he hasn’t changed a great deal by the end. He still seeks the answers to his problems in the life of music he once left behind. And what good is a coming-of-age story if the young person hasn’t found a new meaning of life, a purpose that drives him, or a moral ruler against which to measure his own actions and those of others?
And yet . . . and yet . . . this may well turn out to be an important book—one that provides our literary world with an early understanding of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Max and his friends represent a generation of soldiers caught somewhere between the heroism of World War II and the bitterness of Vietnam. Perhaps we are still too close to the period to fully comprehend what that means for them and for their futures.
MWSA Reviewer: Carolyn Schriber
Inspired by Sam Gonzalez’s true story, "The Chords of War" is the tale of punk rock teenager Max Rivera from Florida, who seeks purpose as he tries to understand why his life always teeters between music and mayhem. After he's kicked out of his band on tour, he joins the Army to change his life. It's after 9/11, and he finds himself under fire in Iraq, part of the surge in Baquabah. In order to deal with his teen angst and raging hormones among daily patrols, coordinated battles, and women fighting alongside him, Max creates a new band with soldiers. Will Max and his friends make it?
Book Format(s): Hard cover, Soft cover, Kindle, ePub/iBook
Genre(s): Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Review Genre: Fiction—Historical Fiction
Number of Pages: 280