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Book Review: "American Wife: Love, War, Faith & Renewal" by Taya Kyle & "American Sniper" by Chris Kyle

Abigail Benjamin

Here is a 4th of July Hat Trick. Watch "American Sniper," the movie by director Clint Eastwood. Then read two autobiographies, one by Navy Seal Chris Kyle and a new book released by his widow, Taya Kyle.

"American Sniper," the book, had a lot of inspiring passages about the value of perseverance. I felt encouraged by Kyle description that the best recruits for the Navy Seals were not the strongest guys or the toughest guys. But the guys who had mental toughness and muscular flexibility. Kyle's description of the training process for becoming a Navy Seal was also the clearest metaphor I've ever heard to describe the stress of Stay At Home Motherhood.

"I don't know how many hundreds of push-up or other exercises we did. I do know that I felt like I was going to fail. That drove me- I did not want to fail. I kept facing that fear, and coming to the same conclusion, every day, sometimes several times.

People ask about how tough the exercises were, how many push-ups we had to do, how many sit-ups. The numbers themselves were almost beside the point.... It was the repetition and constant stress, the abuse that came with the exercises, that made BUD/S so tough...

Getting through BUD/S and being a SEAL is more about mental toughness than anything else. Being stubborn and refusing to give in is the key to success. Somehow I stumbled onto the winning formula." (A. Sniper, pg 28-29)

My favorite quote from the boat is Kyle's memory of being trained in ocean swimming. "You swim all the time. Two-mile swims were routine. And then there was the time where we were taken out in boats and dropped off seven nautical miles from the beach.

"There's one way home, boys," said the instructors. "Start swimming."  (pg 30).

There are a lot of really hard things that I do in my daily life. Somehow that image of Jesus being my Drill Sergeant who drops me off from shore in a cold, dark ocean and says "There's one way home, girl! Start swimming!" really resonates with me.

Inside of "American Sniper" there is violence and bad language. The narrative was so strong in this autobiography I found myself with a much stronger stamina than I usually have for the War Genre. I think "American Sniper" is an important book for Christian women to read because its written from the perspective of a confident Texas man. Reading the thoughts of a self-assured, Southern man, whose inner life  is not highly representative of the inner dialogue of the New Yorker/Washington Post male writers that I usually read, was a good mental stretch for me. 

I'm more confused about my review of "American Wife" by Taya Kyle. This was a weird paradox where I felt like I liked someone less after I read their first hand account of their marriage, after reading the carefully tailored first person accounts placed inside her husband's autobiography. I'd be interested in hosting an online book club comparing the events outlined in these two books side by side. Some of the important events in the marriage are described in a radically different way between the husband and the wife. I wasn't clear if their gender caused them to experience the same events in such different way? Or if Christ Kyle's tragic murder caused a revision of central events in their 10 year marriage? I think further thought and discussion about this topic is fruitful for those of us who are living out the vocation of marriage.

I was not a huge fan of the movie "American Sniper." I felt like I was watching a dreary, wandering Western. I spoke about the movie with a Social Worker at my local Veteran Affairs who has treated a lot of PTSD suffers. She thought the movie was extremely accurate in its depiction of what many soldiers face when they come home from war. 

We can not give enough love to our military families. If you have a military base or a VA hospital close by, please visit. The next best thing is to read memoirs and non-fiction by veterans themselves. My favorite war memoir is "The Things They Carried" by Marine Sniper, Anthony Swofford. Swofford describes shaking the desert sand out of his Marine Combat Uniform in the middle of Iowa, while attending the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Somehow that mental image has impressed me for years. "American Sniper," the book isn't a glittery book of prose. Yet the writing is really solid and the story arch is well done. I felt like I met the real Chris Kyle, when I finished the book. I'm grateful for the help to connect with a Veteran and the reminder to pray more urgently for world peace.