Survival in Fallujah

05/09/2012 4:00 AM |

Falcons on the Floor
by Justin Sirois
(Publishing Genius)

Falcons on the Floor is an arresting tale of adolescent friendship and love, about two boys not yet old enough to be men, asked to survive in circumstances that would make most adults shake. The danger the two boys face is the tread of Coalition forces, and the setting is Fallujah, Iraq, on the eve of the first siege.

The story follows Khalil and Salim, the former a mischievous con-man in the making and the latter a computer-savvy hopeless romantic, as they flee Fallujah across the desert to Ramadi, and internet access, so that Salim can tell his girlfriend in Syria that he is alive. The stakes are higher than merely updating his Facebook page: the itchy trigger fingers of overtired US Marines make the desert even more inhospitable. Justin Sirois’s debut novel is exciting and eye-opening, with a sad finish that will leave the reader with a fresh disgust for war.

Sirois wrote the book with the help of Haneen Alshujairy, an Iraqi refugee now living in Cairo, and speaking out about the plight of displaced Iraqis. Her consultation on the facts, conditions and general mood in Fallujah on the eve of the siege is invaluable, and as a result, the tale does not lack for authenticity, while Sirois’s spare, direct style conveys the complex terror of hiding behind a rock to survive. Much of the book is narrated via the diary Salim keeps on a laptop; his prose is poetic, honest: “The night sky crashes white. We turn toward Fallujah. Empty steel drums roll under clouds… Deltas of oil smoke leech the sky.”

Though American culture pervades the book, thanks to the obsessions of the pair of boys, fluffy pop is always distilled through a filter of violence. Khalil convinces Salim to take him along: “You’ll need me… You know, moral support, your wing man, your black guy in Dead Hard.” Salim, corrects him—“Die Hard”—laughing and wiping “bloody syrup” off his arm. The reference resonates for many reasons, chiefly the contrast between our violent escapism and the pain and suffering endured by these two innocents with a strength surpassing their age.