Love And Black Elephants During Wartime

Over the holidays I finished one of the new books from University of Nebraska Press.  Black Elephants by Karol Nielsen was a quick pleasure to read.  The book is Nielsen’s memoir of falling in love and the evolution of her relationship with an Israeli man during the first Gulf War.

I was drawn to the book because it was a different kind of war story.  I’m used to reading war history, but I live war in a certain way.  I wanted to read something that described the “invisible casualties” like I feel and deal with when I live war.

I love how Nielsen describes in the book how much war does affect people without them realizing it.  She lived in Israel during the Gulf War, but the mental ramifications of the conflict haunt her relationship forever.  People cannot be left untouched by war regardless of their role in it, and the full extent to which they are changed comes out slowly.  It’s a cautionary tale as much as it is a personal memoir.

I really identify with Nielsen and her struggles even though I haven’t lived war or attempted to assimilate into a different culture like she did.  She wrestles with how much of herself to let go into this new relationship, especially when the war is changing what exactly that is to begin with.  She wrestles with loving and living with a person who is equally traumatized by war.  She wrestles with wanting something badly but knowing that something is wrong at the same time.  She describes a very human experience that I think most can relate to even if war has never touched their lives.  She really wants to save someone, but that someone ends up being herself.

The book is a very quick read because Nielsen’s writing is effortless.  Much as I’m sure she does, readers are left wishing for a different outcome at the end but knowing that it could not have been different.  As lonely as Nielsen made the war and surviving it seem, the less alone it made me feel for butting heads with the effects of war in my own home.

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