Dust to Dust: A Memoir

Dust to Dust: A Memoir

by Benjamin Busch


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Tim O’Brien meets Annie Dillard in this remarkable memoir by debut author Benjamin Busch. Much more than a war memoir, Dust to Dust brilliantly explores the passage through a lifetime—a moving meditation on life and death, the adventures of childhood and revelations of adulthood. Seemingly ordinary things take on a breathtaking radiance when examined by this decorated Marine officer—veteran of two combat tours in Iraq—actor on the hit HBO series The Wire, and son of acclaimed novelist Frederick Busch. Above all, Benjamin Busch is a truly extraordinary new literary talent as evidenced by his exemplary debut, Dust to Dust—an original, emotionally powerful, and surprisingly refreshing take on an American soldier’s story.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062014856
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/19/2013
Pages: 309
Sales rank: 1,219,666
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

Benjamin Busch is a United States Marine Corps infantry officer, photographer, film director, and actor whose many roles have included Officer Anthony Colicchio on the HBO series The Wire. His writing has been featured in Harper's and has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He has also appeared as a guest commentator on NPR's All Things Considered. He lives on a farm in Michigan with his wife and two daughters.

What People are Saying About This

Ward Just

Dust to Dust is a wonderful book, original in concept and stunningly written, a soldier’s memoir that is about soldiering and much else besides. The last two dozen pages are a tour de force, a breathtaking meditation on loss and remembrance, dust to dust.”

Philip Caputo

“An imaginative, original meditation on mortality that reaches beyond the particulars of the Iraq war and the present day to grasp the universal. It is a literary gem.”

Mary Karr

“This brave soldier with his singular sensibility . . . builds us a fort we’re loath to leave.”

Doug Stanton

“Busch is a brilliant prose stylist for whom every pause counts, a man of three worlds—the heart, the mind, the earth. Dust to Dust is a stunning literary work about this mysterious trinity, and a return to home.”

Karl Marlantes

“Elegiac, funny, wistful, deep, and wonderfully human, Dust to Dust moved me to laughter and tears, sometimes simultaneously. . . . After reading this book, you will want to go outside and really look at our world.”

Bonnie Jo Campbell

“Busch is a poet with the soul of a civil engineer, and for as long as his body sustains him, he is the perfect soldier. I loved every page of this mesmerizing book.”

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Dust to Dust 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a fantastic book. I loved the unusual, cyclic structure. I loved the building of themes. I've loaned this book to several friends who all found it fascinating. Reading this book will make you aware of (perhaps largely forgotten) things from your past that helped make you what you've become.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I know the author of this book personally, and I can say that this sounds like him. He can bounce between philosophical and ascerbic sarcasm, and this book is the philosophical side of him, captured on paper. It's told in a train of thought style, linking between various stories of his childhood, military experience, and young adulthood. It can be inspiring, it can be amusing, and sometimes it can be a very melancholy tale. I talked with him at a signing, and he told me that I wouldn't understand all of it at 13. And I know I won't. But this is why he's so fascinating to learn about. This book is a projection of his thoughts, almost making you fell like you're conversing with him bout experiences. To pass this over would be a great shame.
Grady1GH More than 1 year ago
'Attrition is the mission.' By Grady Harp There are memoirs and there a Memoirs - usually those relating life experiences come toward the end of life, providing a sage exploration of what has made existence of the reporter on the planet unique, just before finally closing the eyes in a terminal sleep. Some are written as confessions or as leaving clues for the obituary writer whose concern it is to sum up a life soon completely spent. Benjamin Busch in DUST TO DUST writes more about life as it is currently molding his psyche, admixing moments of childhood memories with adult confrontations with such ominous beasts as wars and the threat of annihilation, yet in the end his book settles into the rank of great literature - a book so thoughtfully unique, so eloquently written, that instead of a Memoir (and one deserving the capital M) Benjamin Busch has written an extended poem that embraces all the interstices of life as it is being remembered and experienced in as completely involved a fashion as a learned sage of much older years. One of the many facets of this book is Busch's decision to divide his book into chapters that are based on the themes of elements - Arms, Water, Metal, Soil, Bone, Wood, Stones, Blood, Ash - a wise technique of traveling from childhood to adulthood in each chapter, ingeniously focusing each level of memory regression based on an aspect of his young years that became part of his direction toward revealing reality as it feels at the present. Childhood preoccupation with fighting and creating battleships and airplanes and the other accoutrements of a young (very bright) boy's mind slowly emerge toward his life as a soldier. But just as toy airplanes made of alley trash and foil never get off the ground despite the longing for consummation of adventurous dreams, so does the commitment to become a Marine Corps officer fail to rise to expectations of glorious battle and instead results in delays and aborted odd missions until the action in Iraq et al when primed conceit is rotted with shrapnel wounds and observation of loss of life - all in meaningless exercises in loss and disillusion. Another surprise that accompanies the reader on every page of this book is the manner in which Benjamin Busch has so quickly become a painter - representational and expressionist and impressionist and photographic and collage - with his recreating his childhood and the subsequent move toward adulthood. His depictions of long ago created forts, of his interaction with the vagaries of nature's water bodies and other remembered childhood interactions with the elements are as pulsatile and poetic as are his depictions of Okinawa, Iraq, boot camp, and the response to the death of his parents. And Busch uses this gift of pictorial creation to define a life that is molded by a significant past and constantly altered by the coincidences of the present. Yes there are portions about the author's response to war as he lives it: `I walked though the battlefield as if I were a tourist. I looked at Iran in the near distance. It had battled Iraq with artillery shells that we had sent them in the support of the shah, and Iraq had fired back with shells that we had later given in support of Saddam. We were now hunting that same man, Rumsfeld's old ally, who was, at the moment, hiding in a hole in the dirt, writing orders to his lieutenants requiring their resistance to terrorists we blamed him for befriending, He was hiding in a hole in the yard of a house that had no cellar.' Ludicrous reality reported by a wise Marine who was there. This blend of irony and humor pervades the book, allowing breezes of fresh air to the author's analysis of the passage of time as he has lived in it. `I found it odd that celebration and mourning were coupled in so many single, detached acts. All bullets landed somewhere.' In Benjamin Busch's Epilogue he reflects, `I have seen cities destroyed in my life, people buried, graves dug up. I have lived outside in the elements. I know that everything is recomposed from preexisting matter, that we are all fragments from earth and life blown apart and gathered up. Pieces of us are form stars and meteors, the ocean, dirt, and the dead. We will not be able to keep these pieces wither, our bodies doomed to be given back to the ground.' Writing of this quality comes only from great minds - perhaps part of the gift is genetically passed from Busch's father, writer Frederick Busch whose precise, poetic novels and stories delved into the seemingly unspectacular but ultimately profound experiences of people and families grappling with existential crises. What every the ingredients that comprise Busch's gift he is surely one of the more important writers to emerge in a long time: he will not fall into the military phrase that titles this review. He must be read to experience and appreciate his worth. Grady Harp,
TimBazzett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Benjamin Busch's memoir, DUST TO DUST, is a piece of work that is at once puzzling and moving. Puzzling because I wondered how a Vassar graduate who had majored in studio art could seem so easily conversant about things like soil and stone, metal and water, ash and bone - things one would normally associate with earth sciences, geology or archaeology. And moving because, by using these elements as primary symbols and vehicles for telling his life story, he touches too on the pain of extended family separations, injuries and wounds, loss of comrades-in-arms and loved ones, and the grief and hard-won wisdom that follow. Some readers may have trouble with the spiraling, circular narrative, which jumps from his solitary childhood enterprises and adventures to his war-time service as a Marine officer in Iraq, then back to that childhood in upstate New York and Maine. He tells too of his college years, interspersed with more tales of his military training in Virginia, North Carolina and California, his deployments to Ukraine and Korea, and trips as a child and young man to England. What emerges is a portrait of a boy and a man with a boundless curiosity about the world he inhabits and how he fits into it. His whole life Busch has struggled against rules and expectations, endlessly experimenting and daring to be different. The son of a novelist (Frederick Busch) father and librarian mother, Busch grew up with a healthy respect for books, but was drawn more to exploring the forests, fields and streams that surrounded their rural home, building walls, forts and bridges in a childhood marked by an extraordinary unstructured freedom foreign to today's children. Busch's description of his childhood explorations and wanderings made me think of Cooper, and the child Ben Busch as a kind of half-size Natty Bumppo - "The forest spread undisturbed and beyond measure, and I felt like I had found a place before maps. I drew my own map of the forest, without a compass, and gave names to the terrain. It was a kind of storytelling." Busch continues describing this forest, this "place before maps," until he reaches a point he proclaimed "the center of the forest," and comments, "Reading ROBINSON CRUSOE here would be different from reading it in a room." There, of course, is that inescapable influence of his more cautious, book-ish parents. Although both of Ben's grandfathers had served in WWII, his parents were shocked when Ben joined the Marines out of Vassar. He was, in fact, the very first Marine officer candidate to come from Vassar, which his boot camp commander called a "girls' school." Busch had the ill-advised temerity to correct the officer, saying, as his many female classmates had taught him, that it was a "women's college, sir." (In fact, Vassar has ben co-educational since 1969.) There is no hint of braggadocio or macho chest-thumping to be found anywhere in Busch's accounts of his service in Iraq. He tells instead, in tellingly terse terms, of being ambushed, of rushing his wounded men to aid stations, of holding the hand of a too-young man, bleeding out and in shock, asking, "What is happening to me?" Busch doesn't have an answer. He goes outside into the dark and washes the man's blood from his hand. In another incident he tells of how he and a captain friend break the tension of a dangerous patrol by trading remembered absurd dialogue about being "in great peril" from MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL. Moments later the captain was dead from an IED explosion. Feeling powerless, in a letter home, Busch reviews the Rules of Engagement - "Positive identification of a threat is required before you can fire. Reasonable certainty ... You are not sure, in the shimmering imagination of night vision equipment, if you see something moving. It can't be positively identified. You are holding your fire. You are holding your position ..." He reflects on how the "purity of service had been corrupted by the moral ambiguity of political language." Li
JackieBlem on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"I knew very early that I was a solitary being. I longed for the elemental". That is how the prologue to this book begins. Two pages into this memoir, I was entranced. Busch has a style of writing that thrills me in a way that I cannot explain--baldly honest, clear eyed and bursting with the visual and tactile as well as profound emotion with a deep seated philosophy a constant undercurrent to the prose. He tells his story through the elements that have made the most impressions on him throughout his life, with chapters named "Water", "Soil", Wood", "Stone". He also reveals his life long affinity toward soldiering in "Arms", "Metal", "Blood". Yet, just like in life, all of the elements come into play, often mixing together during important times, providing acontinuous center that not everyone can identify in themselves. Written as a way through his grief at the loss of his parents--both in less than a year--this book offers up a way for all of us to examine our lives and their components, to see how they built us, where they have taken us or will take us, and what it all means. This is an astonishing book, and I cannot find enough ways to recommend it. I'll settle with, "Please, read this book."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Yes im back now and Jake, leave." Move to res three
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Matt_Moshen More than 1 year ago
"Dust to Dust" was an excellent read; a moving meditation on life, death and the experiences of a combat marine/actor/writer/photographer. I enjoyed every word and recommended it to all of my friends.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I looked forward to this book with great anticipation and while it is a good book it had the potential to be great. I am looking forward to the author's next book and to watching him move from good to great.
LinB99 More than 1 year ago
i read Busch's article in the Daily Beast about the murders of the Afgans by a young soldier and expected this book to be pretty much about the authors experiences in the Marines. far from it. it was really a journey from his young childhood to the present. and it was a very interesting journey. i hate giving plotlines away, especially when the book has been described by the publisher, so suffice it to say this is a very interesting and very easy read and i highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BookFan2012 More than 1 year ago
If you like boring nonfiction books with prose that put you to sleep, prepare to be disappointed. Busch's narrative style spoke to me. I found the book's themes on loss struck a chord with me- one that I perhaps wasn't ready to examine, but had to confront. I highly recommend adding this to your collection.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book will encourage you to explore your own memories and find in them immense power to bring back those you have lost and discover the endurance of the human spirit. It honors the survival of our childhood while grappling with our departure from it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
pencilpusher More than 1 year ago
The book featured a circular path for the narrative. He begins with his childhood, flashes forward to tell an anecdote about college, then back to his childhood, forward to something about the Marine Corps, back to his childhood, forward to a war time anecdote. As a child he was sort of a loner, wandering around doing s**t, wanting to be a warrior. There seemed to be a lot more about his childhood that really wasn't all that useful in seeing how it formed the warrior. All young boys wander around doing s**t, and playing war. We all dug forts and defended them against invaders. His childhood was about as mundane as 90% of us except for his famous father who doesn't seem to have been a big influence in his life. I would have rather seen a single chapter showing what a mundane childhood he actually had to end up a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps, an actor and all the rest. And more time on his formative wartime experiences. All in all a disappointing and unfulfilling read for me. I was barely able to slog through it at times. There are far too many better books about the experience, not the least of which is Sebastian Junger's book, 'War'.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago