Draw Your Weapons

Photo: Courtesy of Random House

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Draw Your Weapons
320 pages; Random House
A collage of death, savagery, torture and trauma across generations and continents, Sarah Sentilles's Draw Your Weapons (Random House) is painful to read, hard to put down, and impossible to forget. Ten-plus years in the writing, the book is composed of brief sections, many no more than a paragraph, about the effects of violence from the perspectives of the perpetrators, victims, thinkers, and artists. 

Harvard Divinity School graduate Sentilles weaves together details from Ghraib, Auschwitz, and her own family's war stories, creating a shockingly poetic meditation on how and why we break one another and what happens after. She is fascinated by strange intersections of brutality and art in photographs, paintings, and even the making of musical instruments. As a species we commit atrocious acts, but we also memorialize them in images that both lie and tell the truth about what occurred. These likenesses-- the infamous photo of the hooded man standing on a box at Abu Ghraib with electrodes attached to his outstretched hands, pictures of slaves on plantations or of a Taliban soldier about to be killed by his captors-- haunt Sentilles, just as they do us. She writes, "I live in a world where it is said, You are here and war is there.... But war is right here-- the photograph on my screen of a girl splattered in blood at a checkpoint... the body of a teenager left uncovered on the street of an American city.... Here and there and here again." 

Ultimately, she poses the question, "How to respond to violence that feels as if it can't be stopped?" The first thing we must do, this astonishing book suggests, is not look away. 
— Stacey D'Erasmo