An intriguing personal story, Paradise General by Dave Hnida is an entertaining telling of Dr. Hnida’s endeavors as a trauma doc in Iraq. When Hnida and the other doctors aren’t repairing splintered bones and bullet wounds, they’re cracking jokes and throwing rooftop parties. An odd mix, Hnida’s humor is very much apart of who he is, and his way of life at war. His best friends are many of his fellow doctors, the closest of which is Rick, whom Hnida met when he first arrived on a military bus at the beginning of the story. Whether it’s Hnida’s daily name-tag nickname, or the antics of the other doctors, Hnida maintains a nearly constant flow of humor throughout the story - even during surgeries and other medical procedure. Though he mentions that the group’s often corny jokes are told intentionally, as a way to keep the other thoughts of war off the mind, Hnida’s experience isn’t a comedy. His sincerity is refreshing, and is only more interesting to me because he lives in my community. Part of the reason I decided to read this book in the first place was because Hnida is from the Columbine area. It’s easy to forget just how real war is, especially when it’s happening half way around the world. I don’t have any ties to the military or war, but to be able to find common ground with an author who does, made the story appealing to me. Hnida never bored me with his day-to-day telling, which is surprising for a routine-based army lifestyle, but I would have liked to learn more through the more reflective side of Dr. Hnida. It is evident from the beginning that he volunteers for service because of his relationship with his father, who's war experiences drove him to the liquor cabinet throughout the author’s childhood. However, it seems that the importance of Hnida’s time in Iraq drifts further and further from his father as the story goes on, and is not mentioned again in the end. I don’t necessarily think that the importance of his father’s soldier days was ever diminished in Hnida’s mind, but he never completely announces himself to be at peace with the memories of his father, which is what I was more or less expecting at the end of the story. Still, Hnida offers a satisfying and interesting telling of his hectic days, “riding the surge” in Iraq.
Paradise General: Riding the Surge at a Combat Hospital in Iraq by Dave Hnida
November 8, 2011