Producer/Host: Ron Beard, University of Maine Cooperative Extension
Engineer: Amy Browne
Program Topic: Conversation with Roxana Robinson about her new novel Sparta, telling the story of a young Iraq War marine veteran and his “homecoming”
Key Discussion Points (list at least 3):
a) Your new novel reflects on both the sending forth and the homecoming we provide for our young soldiers, invoking parallels to the historical Sparta… what inspired you to take up this story?
b) Sparta is told through the experience of Conrad Farrell, and his family—his mother, Lydia, Marshall, his father, his younger siblings, Jenny and Oliver… introduce us to this middle class, white, college-educated family, and the community where they live.
c)When Conrad is a senior in college, he comes home one weekend in the Spring of 2001 and announces he is joining the Marines… his mother, who grew up during the Vietnam War, has assumed that our national memory would prevent us from future entanglements…
d)Conrad serves two tours of duty in Iraq, as an officer. He unit is deployed in Ramadi and Haditha. His training serves him well. He looks out for his men… he writes to the parents of those who are killed… one of his men, Anderson, saves his life… in April 2004, while traveling the east west road in Ramadi, an IED explodes under their HUMVEE… Conrad cradles Olivera in his arms but can’t save him. As members of a Quick Reaction Force, he and his men search a roadside house and encounter a family killed by another Marine patrol, in retaliation for an exploded IED on the passing road.
What in his training allows him to cope, relatively well, as a Marine, and as an officer?
e)Conrad reflects on the importance of mail
f)He is discharged, and lives in a new, bifurcated world: Conrad is living on two planes, the world of blood and sand, in Iraq, and the green normalcy of his home… it proves very difficult to keep these from spinning out of control… how did these various worlds and planes reveal themselves in the interviews you did with Marines and others?
g)Through Conrad’s experiences and thoughts, we discover some of what all soldiers encounter when they return home. As you researched the book, what did you discover about how unprepared soldiers are for their homecoming and how unprepared we are to welcome them home…
h)What other parallels struck you between historic Sparta and our own world, both the culture Marines and the culture that sends them in to battle?
i)What happens to our national memory about going to war? The echos of our national memory about World War II seem to be different than for Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan… what might account for these differences?
j)Sparta tracks the arc of the war in Iraq… what did you learn ( as historian) about our execution of that war that wasn’t obvious from encountering it in nightly headlines?
k) Sparta opens with an epigraph from Simone Weil… would you describe how you came across that line, why it resonates, …The man who does not wear the armour of the lie cannot
experience force without being touched by it to the very soul.
Guest: Roxana Robinson, author of Sparta, published by Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2013 ISBN 978-0-374-26770-4