Sparta

( 10 )

Overview

Going from peace to war can make a young man into a warrior. Going from war to peace can destroy him.

Conrad Farrell has no family military heritage, but as a classics major at Williams College, he has encountered the powerful appeal of the Marine Corps ethic. "Semper Fidelis" comes straight from the ancient world, from Sparta, where every citizen doubled as a full-time soldier. When Conrad graduates, he joins the Marines to continue a long ...

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Sparta

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Overview

Going from peace to war can make a young man into a warrior. Going from war to peace can destroy him.

Conrad Farrell has no family military heritage, but as a classics major at Williams College, he has encountered the powerful appeal of the Marine Corps ethic. "Semper Fidelis" comes straight from the ancient world, from Sparta, where every citizen doubled as a full-time soldier. When Conrad graduates, he joins the Marines to continue a long tradition of honor, courage, and commitment.

As Roxana Robinson's new novel, Sparta, begins, Conrad has just returned home to Katonah, New York, after four years in Iraq, and he's beginning to learn that something has changed in his landscape. Something has gone wrong, though things should be fine: he hasn't been shot or wounded; he's never had psychological troubles--he shouldn't have PTSD. But as he attempts to reconnect with his family and his girlfriend and to find his footing in the civilian world, he learns how hard it is to return to the people and places he used to love. His life becomes increasingly difficult to negotiate: he can't imagine his future, can't recover his past, and can't bring himself to occupy his present. As weeks turn into months, Conrad feels himself trapped in a life that's constrictive and incomprehensible, and he fears that his growing rage will have irreparable consequences.

Suspenseful, compassionate, and perceptive, Sparta captures the nuances of the unique estrangement that modern soldiers face as they attempt to rejoin the society they've fought for. Billy Collins writes that Roxana Robinson is "a master at . . . the work of excavating the truths about ourselves"; The Washington Post's Jonathan Yardley calls her "one of our best writers." In Sparta, with the powerful insight and acuity that marked her earlier books (Cost, Sweetwater, and A Perfect Stranger, among others), Robinson explores the life of a veteran and delivers her best book yet.
A Washington Post Notable Fiction Book of 2013

Shortlisted for the 2015 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Heller McAlpin
Pardon the pun, but Roxana Robinson's new novel, Sparta, which takes us deep inside the troubled head of a Marine returning from four years of active duty in Iraq, really is a tour de force…Sparta is a novel with a mission—which in a lesser writer's hands could spell its doom. But Robinson manages to convey the difficulties of a warrior returning to society and dramatize how we fail our veterans without reducing her story to a polemic. She pulls this off by expertly deploying three literary weapons: emotional insight, moral nuance and intellectual depth.
The New York Times Book Review - Ron Carlson
One of the many strengths of this engaging story is that Robinson doesn't treat post-traumatic stress disorder with that nifty abbreviation, PTSD, neatly buttoning it in place. Instead, she shows us a more insidious, layered and complex mix of debilitating psychological wounds…Of course we've seen soldiers like Conrad before: young men who become antisocial powder kegs, shocked by the laxity and privilege they find all around them upon their return from the war zone. But Robinson's Conrad has his own path…Robinson distinguishes Conrad best, reveals his tender and angry core, in her depictions of his relationships with his sister and brother, with his former classmates and, most powerfully, with his girlfriend, as they painfully circle each other, trying to reassemble, reinvent, reimagine how it might be possible to have a life together.
Publishers Weekly
Robinson’s fifth novel (following Cost) is a detailed examination of the inner life of a Marine returning home after combat. Classics scholar Conrad Farrell, wanting to do “something big,” enlists in the belief that, as a soldier, he will be continuing a tradition going back to the ancient world. Following officer training at Quantico, Va., and four years of service in Iraq, he finds coming back to his family in Westchester, N.Y., a disorienting experience. He can’t get used to the safety of civilian life and struggles to reconnect with his family and his girlfriend, Claire, feeling overcome by rage at unexpected moments. He stays in contact, though, with the men who served under him. Suspecting that he’s suffering from PTSD, Conrad contacts the VA, but his needs are ignored again and again. Robinson brings us deep inside Conrad’s soul, and inside the suffocating despair and frustration that can stalk soldiers even when they are ostensibly out of harm’s way. By letting the reader live in Conrad’s skin, Robinson creates a moving chronicle of how we fail our returning troops. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit. (June)
The New York Times

One of the many strengths of this engaging story is that Robinson doesn't treat post-traumatic stress disorder with that nifty abbreviation, PTSD, neatly buttoning it in place. Instead, she shows us a more insidious, layered and complex mix of debilitating psychological wounds, many of them sharpened by the stonishing contrast between driving the explosive roads of a war zone and walking down a crowded New York street.
The Washington Post on Roxana Robinson

One of our best writers.
The Wall Street Journal on Roxana Robinson

Both lyrical and unsentimental, richly honest and humane.
Los Angeles Review of Books

The great power of the novel lies in its ability to make Conrad into something both idiosyncratic and authentic, but at the same time, indicative of much larger truths.
author of "Redeployment" Phil Klay

Roxana Robinson's Sparta delicately explores the fissures between the military experience and civilian life with this portrait of a liberal northeastern family and what happens when their son, a young Marine lieutenant, returns home from Iraq irrevocably changed. This book is not simply about war, but about the horror and enforced isolation of trauma, the inevitable merging of the personal and the political, and the possibilities and trials found within the bonds of familial and romantic love.
author of The Woman Upstairs and The Emperor's Ch Claire Messud

Roxana Robinson's Sparta is a feat of the imagination. Vividly and with unflinching wisdom, Robinson has given voice, substance, and profound reality to her protagonist, Conrad Farrell of the Marine Corps--and in so doing, to thousands of veterans like him.
author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk Ben Fountain

Sparta gives us an unflinching portrayal of the costs of war, costs that go far beyond what the tallies of killed and wounded can tell us. There are plenty of losses that can be measured only in the language of the spirit, and it's books such as this one, necessary books, that guide us to a fuller appreciation of war's costs.
Chicago Tribune on Roxana Robinson

An intelligent, sensitive analyst of family life.
Library Journal
Home from Iraq, Conrad Farrell can't adjust and is getting very, very angry. A key topic from the ever apt Robinson.
Kirkus Reviews
A Marine commander returns home from Iraq badly shaken in this novel, which wears its heart--and its research--on its sleeve. Conrad entered the Marines shortly before 9/11 with an ambition to do something big: He studied Greek military history in college, admiring the discipline of city-states like Sparta (hence the title) but neglecting that place's undercurrent of hubris. Returning home after two tours in Iraq to his sturdily middle-class family outside New York, Conrad is incapable of shaking off his experience. Loud noises snap him into fighting mode; suburban buildings and trains appear to him as easy targets; and simple conversations with his family and his on-again, off-again girlfriend become torments. Robinson (Cost, 2009, etc.) consulted with Iraq War vets and a stack of books to construct Conrad, and she is masterful at capturing the various ways that language fails to depict the misery of PTSD; she subtly shows how everything from emails to prescription information sheets to official forms offer ways to only talk around the problem. Conrad struggles to find his footing in the months after his return, gamely preparing for grad school and reconnecting with college friends, but he slowly slips off the rails as he begins to self-medicate. Between the detailed flashbacks of wartime violence and the visions of stateside anxiety, Robinson has convincingly summarized the wartime experience, but only rarely does it feel like she's made a full person out of Conrad, who has the distant feel of an Everyvet; his interest in Greek history comes across as more a convenient metaphor than character shading. As Conrad's decline accelerates, Robinson hurries the pace of the closing chapters, undoing the fictional rhythms of a book that at times has the declamatory tone of a nonfiction study. A well-intentioned but flawed exploration of an underdiscussed topic.
The Washington Post (A Notable Fiction Book of the Year)

A tour de force.
The New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice)

One of the many strengths of this engaging story is that Robinson doesn't treat post-traumatic stress disorder with that nifty abbreviation, PTSD, neatly buttoning it in place.
The Washington Post

One of our best writers.
The Wall Street Journal

Both lyrical and unsentimental, richly honest and humane.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374267704
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 6/4/2013
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 1,005,905
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author


Roxana Robinson is the author of four previous novels, three collections of short stories, and the biography Georgia O'Keeffe: A Life. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, More, and Vogue, among other publications.
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Reading Group Guide

1. Explore the novel's title. How does the description of Spartan life in chapter 4 compare to the life of a U.S. soldier in the twenty-first century? Why was Conrad drawn to classicism? Did he experience any of those ideals as a modern American warrior?

2. If you were in Claire's position, how would you respond to Conrad's homecoming? Ultimately, what does he need from her, and from all his loved ones? What makes it hard for him get his needs met without turning people away?

3. What are some of the differences between Marshall's and Lydia's approaches to their children? Despite her career as a successful therapist, why is Lydia mystified by Conrad's symptoms, culminating in chapter 24, when she rejects his rage by telling him, "I can't stand this. Con, you have to do something about this"?

4. How did Ali change Conrad's perspective on privilege and political struggles? What common fears did they share?

5. As Conrad observes the dramatic changes in Go-Go's value system, what does he discover about the way he and his friends have changed since graduation? Are we our true selves during our college years, or is that just an experimental phase? Do the demands of adulthood transform us into our true selves?

6. From chapter 5, where the factions of Fallujah are explained, what clarity did you gain? How did an American soldier's duties in Iraq compare to those of armed forces in Vietnam and Korea?

7. While being with Jenny, what does Conrad discover about growing older and the changes that took place while he was away? As he walks familiar ground in Katonah and Manhattan, what has changed within him? What did his military service cost him?

8. What does Conrad's heartrending experience with the VA and his session with Dr. Chandler reveal about the high suicide rates among U.S. soldiers and veterans? What would it take to fully fund psychiatric care in the military and rank it alongside weapons and armor in importance?

9. As Conrad remembers Carleton, Olivera, Anderson, and others, what emotions does he experience beyond guilt? How does his network of survivors cope with the seemingly trivial, naive nature of civilian life?

10. Everyone in Conrad's world seems to have a purpose tied to meaningful work. Despite his damaged psyche, Conrad tries to find a new mission, enrolling in an economics class and forcing himself through the GMAT. How did his perception of a meaningful life radically change when he enlisted?

11. What truths are finally spoken at the end of chapter 24? How does the Farrells' response to trauma compare to your family's? Throughout the novel, Conrad told himself that he must keep certain truths from his family. Was he right?

12. What makes Conrad's relationship with Ollie special? What is Ollie able to see and do that the other family members-and the VA clinician-can't?

13. In what ways can fiction sometimes capture reality better than a history book? How did Conrad's story affect your understanding of the challenges faced by veterans and the aftermath of modern warfare?

14. What themes of healing are woven throughout this and other fiction you've read by Roxana Robinson? What is both unique and universal about Conrad's experience?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 10 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(7)

4 Star

(2)

3 Star

(1)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 1, 2013

    Repetitive with a few good moments

    The depiction of the tormented warrior is as old as the Iliad, and needs little else to make it compelling. But this novel, based on many interviews with Iraq and Afghan vets, loses a lot of its compelling nature by the repetitive and derivative nature of the depictions of the inner turmoil of our protagonist. Perhaps the author thought that she was doing the vets whom she interviewed a service by including so many of the same sorts of mental difficulties they have in reintegrating into society, but instead it made the story tedious.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2013

    Excellent

    For the most part, great book, great read>disappointed at the ending. Felt rushed, lacked the detailed explanation of how the protagonist got to the end

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    Roxana Robinson has created a masterpiece. Five stars.

    Roxana Robinson has created a masterpiece. Five stars.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2014

    Lukas

    Walks in.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2014

    Overused memes wrong

    Its over 9!
    Tis is spart
    Obey wedgie
    Luigis head

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2014

    WELCOME TO SPARTAN HIGH SCHOOL

    Home of the Spartans. Registration is in the next res. We also need a principal. And teachers. If you are interested in those jobs please sign up in res 3. Orientation starts at 3:30. If you ever have questuons please contact Sammi Jenkins in res 4

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 16, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    This book was wonderful. This subject needs to be discussed more

    This book was wonderful. This subject needs to be discussed more openly and the author provided a story that was extremely realistic. I recommend that everyone read this book. I especially think it would be important to high school students to read this book as they may have friends or older relatives going through this same issue.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2013

    Redwhisker

    Made a nest with moss, and lined it with squirrel fur.

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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