Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier’s Story

In This Review

Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier’s Story
By Matti Friedman
Algonquin Books, 2016
256 pp.
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There was a time when military memoirs focused on climactic battles of great historic importance. But like other contemporary additions to the genre, Friedman’s describes a war without any real battles—a conflict in which the weaker side used ambushes and booby traps to demonstrate to the notionally stronger party that its position was untenable. In 1998, Friedman was deployed to the Pumpkin, an Israeli military outpost in southern Lebanon. (“Flowers” refers to a code word for casualties.) The outpost’s value had by that time been called into question, notably after a collision between two Israeli helicopters that took 73 lives. Helicopters had become necessary because of the vulnerability of Israeli vehicle convoys to improvised explosive devices laid by the militant group Hezbollah. After the Israelis withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, Friedman used his Canadian passport to return to the area as a civilian, meeting people who were friendly but also encountering a good deal of anti-Semitism. Friedman is a gifted writer, able to capture the tedium and anxiety of life at the Pumpkin with a spare, restrained, laconic style that keeps the reader engaged even when Friedman narrates incidents that lack drama. The result is a thoughtful meditation on both the nature of modern war and a changing Israeli society.