Article first published as Book Review: ‘East of Coker’ by Andy Owen on Blogcritics.
“East of Coker” is the second book by Andy Owen that I have reviewed. Like the first book, “Invective,” it is excellent. It is also, however, completely different. Unlike “Invective,” “East of Coker” is not a spy novel or even a thriller—it is instead a very unique approach to a human interest piece about veterans returning from the war on terror and the resulting post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that affects many. “East of Coker” is written as if you are reading the journal of a British veteran as he writes both in the present-day, and also shares entries from his experiences overseas in Iraq and his return back to civilized society. Instead of taking the more common approach to these issues and tying down the reader with medical terminology and theory, Owen takes the reader into the veteran’s head by using the narrator’s journal entries to tell the story. Once again, Owens knowledge of the subject matter is excellent, and whether it’s from research or first-hand experience, I do not know. One of the characters, Ali, the veteran’s former interpreter, is an incredibly believable character who seems to be a little on the pudgy side, and finds it almost annoyingly funny to say “knock knock” at tent doors. Little tidbits like this make the story feel real and break up the generally depressing feeling of the book.
Perhaps it is because the book is being told from a British perspective, or perhaps it is because Owen is such a good writer, but “East of Coker” is not burdened with the typical glorification or sexiness of war, romance, violence, and drama typically seen in American literature and film covering similar subject matter. Not that these issues are not addressed in the book. It also somehow manages to do justice to the issue of PTSD without politicizing it, with great lines like:
“They don’t realize it’s not that we have experienced something different over there, that we get exposed to something alien to their lives, it is that being over there showed us the chaos that exists everywhere when the happy illusions of our society are stripped away.”
It is clear that Andy either has personal experience with the issues or has done a great deal of research on veterans. The short 63 pages of the book are full of lines like this that show the author’s knowledge and familiarity with both PTSD and the war on terror.
While “East of Coker” by Andy Owen is excellent, I do not know that it will appeal to everyone. There is definitely an audience, however, that will greatly appreciate this book. The educated veteran and those hoping to understand veterans returning from the recent wars will find this book greatly beneficial. Also, anyone interested in a first-person perspective of PTSD. Ultimately, it is an excellent book and I greatly appreciate what he is trying to do for veterans and other with PTSD.