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On Sale: June 18, 2013
Pages: 288 | ISBN: 978-0-307-96071-9
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Powerful and lean, Eleven Days is an astonishing first novel full of suspense that addresses our most basic questions about war as it tells of the love between a mother and her son. When the story opens on May 11, 2011, Sara’s son, Jason, has been missing for nine days from a Special Operations Forces mission on the same night as the Bin Laden raid. Smart, young, and bohemian, Sara had dreams of an Ivy League university for Jason that were not out of reach, followed by a job on the Hill where there were connections through his father. The events of 9/11 changed Jason’s mind and Sara accepted that, steeping herself in all things military to better understand her son’s days, while she works as a freelance editor for Washington policy makers and wonks.

Now she knows nothing more about Jason’s fate than the crowds of well-wishers and media camped out in the driveway in front of her small farmhouse in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, waiting to hear news. In a series of flashbacks we learn about Jason’s dashing absentee father, a man who said he was a writer but whose career seemed to involve being in faraway places. And through letters Jason writes home from his training and early missions, we get a picture of a strong, compassionate leader who is wise beyond his years and modest about his abilities. Those exceptional abilities will give Jason the chance to participate in a wholly different level of assignment, the most important and dangerous of his career. At the end Sara will find herself on an unexpected journey full of surprise.

This is a haunting narrative about a mother’s bond with her son; about life choices; about the military, war, and service to one’s country. Lea Carpenter, a dazzling new talent with the kind of strong and distinctive voice that comes along all too rarely, has given us a thrilling and unforgettable story. 

Excerpt

Tarawa
 
The United States Navy SEALs came out of the Teams that served in Vietnam; they in turn came out of the Navy Seabees, the Scouts and Raiders, and the Underwater Demolition Teams used during World War II. The UDTs evolved out of something else: loss of lives. Their unit was born in the wake of the Battle of Tarawa. At Tarawa, for the first time, the Japanese mounted a sophisticated defense against an enemy amphibious landing. In one day, six thousand Americans died or were injured. It was 1943.
 
Most lives were lost before the Marines reached the beach that day. They drowned. They didn’t know how deep the water was; they didn’t know where the reefs lay. The moon had skewed the tides. Men stepped from their boats into chest-high waters, and when their gear sank, it took them with it. The coral was sharp, and so close to the surface in places that you could see it catch the sun.
 
A new force was required where men were as comfortable in water as on land, and the navy’s underwater demolition trainees possessed part of the necessary skill set. These were combat swimmers, reconnaissance experts, with a kit of suits, knives, life preservers, and a facemask. On D-day they secured the French beaches. In 1962 President Kennedy announced a new defense initiative: a focus on “Special Forces,” men who would fight in unorthodox conditions against an unorthodox enemy. These were not kids trained for trenches. These were warriors ready for the military equivalent of grand master chess games—only ones where you pushed pawn to queen in the dark. They were one spoke on the Special Operations Forces wheel, but the Teams soon proved unique. Their ability to make critical decisions quickly, in complex situations, marked them apart. A  SEAL’s best weapon, like a scholar’s, is his mind.
 
ONE
 
SPOONS
Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, May 11, 2011
 
In the bedroom, Sara finds her running shoes. She has not worn them in a while; there never seemed to be time, although she is no longer sure what she fills her days with, aside from waiting. The neighbors bring their new soups, and she pretends to have new tastes for them, but when they leave, she empties them down the shiny, stainless drains.
 
She pulls on an old Academy shirt and starts out the front door. Where they live now, the driveway is long, almost half a mile, and she knows a good route for today. If she crosses the neighboring farm’s yard, she can catch a path at the lower end of their garden. With that path she can come to their pond, the one she once fished in, and gain access to the main road. The main road leads to a wood, and out the other side of the wood is the highway. This is where she can turn back. Yard, to path below pond, to main road, to highway. If she hits the highway out of breath, she is sure she can hitch a ride. She is a celebrity of sorts now. Everyone wants to help.
 
She long ago adopted the habit of wearing a hat when she runs. When she puts the hat on, she looks down at laces her son left for her when he was last home. They’re bright red. “Running is fun, Mommy,” he’d said. “Don’t take it so seriously.” He still calls her Mommy even though he is a man now. He is twenty- seven. He has been missing for nine days.
 
As a child he’d played with spoons, not guns, even though they had some of those around the house, too. His father had bought him a Boss  sixteen- gauge, one made between the wars, as a baby present. “He has to learn not to be afraid to hold one,” his father had said. But the spoons had him. He liked to line them up on the fl oor. For his third birthday, a godparent gave him a large tin box of multicolored plastic spoons, and soon the phrase “box of spoons” became a proxy for all delights, as in (while watching football) “that last pass was better than a box of spoons”; or (on Christmas morning) “twinkly lights are my favorite thing ever, except for a box of spoons.” On his fifth birthday his father sent him a small silver spoon. It was engraved with the date and this phrase: you were not born with this.
 
He grew up quickly. He was so creative. Leaving spoons aside at last, and reluctantly, for paintbrushes, he was easily the first choice for class pet of every art teacher. Art and writing: these were his early passions. And that pleased her; it somehow rein-forced her sense of herself. It reinforced that she had not ever been owned by anyone—not a government, not a military, not a man. It also reinforced her dreams for what she wanted her son to be. She wanted him to be not only different from his father but also free from the demons that had come with what his father did, or at least from what she knew of what he did. She  didn’t want a son who grew up to be familiar with words like Kalashnikov, katusha, or jezail—unless he learned them from a Kipling poem.
 
But anyone who met him today would say, Soldier. Fighter. They would want him on their team. As a mother she was willing to engage in pride over fear and to admit the possibility that his sacrifice was hers, too. His sacrifice was something she had been able to give her country.
 
Sara felt she had failed in so many other areas of her life, including a chance at an elite education, but she could always say her son is a member of a very special group. If his father had been alive, he would have smiled at the irony. He had claimed to dis-trust the military, despite his obsession with its history. He was a famously great shot but kept to birds and maintained he’d never trained at a range. He mocked things he did not understand, and the military seemed to have been one of those things. He knew more than enough about it to be clear on his views, but still not quite enough. He  didn’t understand the difference between the power of an idea and the power to put an idea into action, but his son did. Even from a very young age, their son had a sense of respect for action over talk, and a sense of respect for the things he did not know. His father had opinions; he had questions. And the father’s guns remained in the house, but they were no longer of interest to the boy as he grew. Since Jason had signed up, Sara never went dove shooting anymore. An old arsenal sat at rest, except the pistol she kept by her bed.
 
She has not run more than a quarter mile before her knee begins to ache. Sometimes when she runs, she will reach the point where she feels she cannot go on, but then she thinks about her son, the runs he’s endured. Multimile runs, on the beach, at night, wet. “Transportation” runs of two miles to a meal, carrying once or twice his body weight in gear. She approaches the path at the base of the yard and she stops for minute. She notices the sky has darkened; it’s about to pour.
 
She had met his father when she was still trying to be an artist at Georgetown. A summer job listing at Langley looked interesting, and she was broke, and the art jobs didn’t pay the bills. She was asked in her interview if she knew how to work a coffee pot, and she said yes. She was asked to name the secretaries of defense and state and by some miracle, she knew those. She was asked if she scared easily, and she said no. She got the job. She made coffee, sometimes up to twelve pots a day, and carried it to the “boys on the floor.” She learned a lot by osmosis but mainly she kept track of her hours and left as early as she could.
 
One day for whatever reason she earned an invitation to a conference in Charlottesville, at the University of Virginia. (“We’ll need coffee there, too,” said her boss, with a wink, as way of explanation.) She would have to work overtime, but she would be meeting interesting people. So she went. And at the other end of the conference room there was a man. She was just standing there, by her coffee pot. He looked at her tag— SARA— and sang the first line from the Fleetwood Mac song by the same name: Wait a minute baby/Stay with me awhile. She didn’t know the song well but he told her it was very good and suggested she buy the album. Then he clarified the connection by pointing up the song’s spelling of “Sara, no ‘h,’ just like yours.” And he said, “Sara without the ‘h’ is much less biblical.” He was thirty years older. She would only find that fact appalling much later, when she was old enough to know people thirty years her junior. But by that time she was resolved not to think too deeply about things. When she asked what he did for a living he said, “Writer,” then smiled. There were a lot of “writers” in the intelligence industry, at least according to her nonscientific survey. “Writer” seemed to be the then- contemporary analog to America’s  Vietnam- era “military advisers.” As far as she could tell, the government was madly sending writers all over the place at that time, with varying levels of success. But this one actually looked like a writer. And he talked like one, too. It was 1983. His name was David.
 
She might have known he was lying when he told her what he did, or what he felt about her, but the lies, which would deepen in complexity along with their relationship, were part of his great game. They were part of what she had chosen to accept when she elected to keep their baby. She was sure that the genes she was incubating had potential to be more—more than a college drop-out carrying coffee for smart chauvinists. And more, too, than a midlevel CIA analyst posing as a journalist. Maybe this child could even be something heroic. Heroic to her at that time meant someone who helped people or created things. A surgeon. Or a scientist. She would even accept an architect, too.
 
Part of the blissful ignorance of not yet having had a first child is the belief that you might just be able to influence the course of their lives. Influence them to greatness. And away from danger. Jason came in May, a little Taurus. May 1984. He was small, but he was perfect.
Lea Carpenter|Author Q&A

About Lea Carpenter

Lea Carpenter - Eleven Days

Photo © Cliff Brokaw

Lea Carpenter lives in New York with her husband and two sons. Eleven Days is her first novel.

Author Q&A

Q: Though you have a Harvard MBA and were an editor at Francis Ford Coppola's literary magazine, Zoetrope, as well as a deputy publisher for The Paris Review for two years, you've written your first novel about a subject entirely different: the life and training of a Navy SEAL, as well as the love between a mother and son.  How did you first come to this topic?
A: A few days after my father died a close friend who had worked in national intelligence came to see my mother and me. He helped us declassify a citation for something my father had done during World War II. I had never seen the words "special operations" in the same sentence as my father's name. He never talked about it. I was born when he was in his 50s; I'd never asked about the war. That friend brought the former Chief of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces with him. They sat my mother and me down and encouraged us to have a military funeral. We were presented the flag.  
That was in 2009. And in 2010, I was working on another book, with a co-author, and a friend who is an agent dared me to try fiction. He said, “give me ten thousand words.” He gave me a deadline: May 3, 2011. I sat down and wrote about what I had been reading about—special operations forces, military intelligence. And I saw him on May 3rd and said, “the subject is Naval Special Warfare.” It was the day after the bin Laden raid; he thought I was joking. But he read the pages and told me to keep going.
At least, that is the short version of the story.
 
Q: What kind of research did you have to do to learn about the Special Forces and "special" operations?  Which qualities, in particular, would make one suitable to become a Navy Seal?
A: I talked to a lot of people. And I read. I asked for reading recommendations from friends who knew more than I did. Spring 2011 was perhaps the best and worst time to start writing—and learning—about special operations forces, Naval Special Warfare in particular. On qualities, aside from the obvious ones, what I saw again and again was consistent: character, humility, intelligence. And wit. You have to have a sense of humor being in that line of work, I think.
 
Q: Where did this research take you physically and mentally and who were some of the real-life inspirations you met along the way?
A: I went to Coronado but then had to stop traveling due to my pregnancy. You can learn a lot from talking though. I spent a lot of time on the phone. Mentally, learning about people who place their lives on the line is a very rewarding process. Real life inspirations: pretty much everyone I met. The families, of course. These extraordinary wives and mothers. This is our greatest generation. It is perhaps a cliché but it happens to be true.
 
Q: This novel gathers intensity and emotion as it alternates between a mother's extremely heart-wrenching view and concern for her only, missing son, and the son, Jason, and what he experiences all around him—his own courage and that of his fellow soldiers.  Was it a challenge to go back and forth with the two perspectives?  
A: It was a device. I wanted to try and write into a certain genre, then try and write against it—in the same story. Mark Bowden wrote a fantastic Afterword for the paperback edition of Black Hawk Down in which he talks about certain literary choices he made—choices for which in some cases he was criticized. I learned a lot from that essay. One challenge was writing about something many far more informed and sophisticated writers than me have covered. I am not a journalist. I am not a scholar. But my father was in the army and my father-in-law was a Marine and I have many friends who have served in these wars. I wanted to try and understand it.
 
Q: Were there surprises for you once you started writing the book—either about the relationship between a mother and her grown son, or the military world he enters?
A: I was surprised by how my interest in war and military history, formerly casual, deepened. In the book someone says to Sara, “You’ve traded Athens for Sparta.” That was something someone said to me. The shift surprised a lot of people perhaps. On sons, having two myself, that intensity was not tough to channel.
 
Q: There's a line in the book which one of Jason's godfathers says to Sara: "War is the ability to die for another person without hesitation. War is the belief in the value of another person's life above belief in your own."  Has your own viewpoint changed about war, and the military, since writing this book?
A: That is a difficult question. I met a Marine general recently, and I asked him how he felt about these wars. And he said, “We don’t start them; we fight them.” I think there is a tendency to be agnostic or, on the other hand, “too goo-ey,” about war. And about the military and about service. I think it is important to understand these elements of America. It is also important not to sentimentalize them. That balance is tricky for a civilian to navigate. If I wrote a book that’s sentimental I have failed. I stole the word “goo-ey” from a friend who worked in intelligence. He said to me, “Lea, just don’t make it too goo-ey.” And I know what he meant.
 
Q: Of the many active, reserve, or retired Team guys who met with you, have you let them see the book and were you surprised by their reactions to it at all?
A: I have. Those reactions I’d prefer to keep private but I will say that my early readers were as thoughtful as any literary editors I’ve ever worked with. I had an early draft read by three people from three distinctly different generations, and what was most interesting was how different their perspectives were. Of course they would be different. Each had served in an era with a very different framework. A war is not a war is not a war.
 
Q: You wrote a blog, “English Lessons,” for the website, Big Think, celebrating "writing we love" which covers a multitude of subjects.  How did you come to do this?  And though perhaps apples and oranges, which do you enjoy more: writing fiction or nonfiction?
A: Big Think was founded by my roommate from grad school, Victoria Brown. I wanted to see what that medium was like and whether if I applied my skills I could add any value. While Big Think is brilliant, blogging is not something that came naturally to me. Ultimately, I didn’t feel comfortable with it. It is about consistency and to some extent, sensation. I thought I could couple it with my day job but it actually is a day job. The concept for “English Lessons” was that if a blog must be educative, perhaps I could train a blog on the question of what good writing looks like. There is an audience for that. And one day someone will do that blog, if it is not being done now. I was not the right person to do it.
 
Q: Why the Marines?
A: Although the United States Marine Corps technically includes the Navy, when we think about “Marines” we tend to think about something different from what we think about when we think about “naval special warfare.” I chose Naval special warfare, or the SEAL Teams, because I knew some guys in that line of work. I felt if I wrote about an area of the military where I had friends who could fact check my pages that was not a bad idea. Also, if you look at the history of special operations forces in this country you do see a line that extends from things my father did in the 40s down to some of what the Teams, and their colleagues in the SOF community, do today. Rescue missions, for example.
 
Q: What message do you want to teach your readers?
A: I am not sure there is a message. I tried to write something structured like a fable, that would read easily, but that might possess deeper resonance for a certain audience. I hope readers come away having felt something. If they learned something, that’s gravy.
 
 
Q: Are any of the characters modeled after someone in your life?  If so, who?
A: Fiction writers often say that they are “all their characters.” I will say that the character of Jason is quite like my father. Jason is someone who knows poetry but also knows how to handle a gun. You can’t say that of many men. People tend to forget that Achilles read at night, through the war. He returned to his camp at night and read.
 
 
Q: What inspired you to write this book?
A: Going through loss. I wanted to write about something that I knew very little about but I ended up writing about a community for whom loss has been a central element, especially through these wars.

Praise

Praise

Praise for Lea Carpenter's Eleven Days

“Masterful. . . . Lea Carpenter’s debut novel, Eleven Days, tells a story that is at once timeless and also grounded in the very real vicissitudes brought about by current events. . . . She has written a tremendous novel that serves as a valuable contribution to our nation’s literature about warfare.”
San Francisco Chronicle
 
“A deeply affecting story about a mother and a son that attests to the debut of an extraordinarily gifted writer. . . . Ms. Carpenter has written a novel that maps—much the way that Jayne Anne Phillips’s classic Machine Dreams and Bobbie Ann Mason’s In Country did—the fallout that war has not just on soldiers, who put their lives on the line, but also on their families, who wait anxiously back home.”
—The New York Times
 
“In simple but stirring prose . . . an elegant meditation on the love between a mother and son whose worldviews changed forever after 9/11, in very different ways.”
Entertainment Weekly
 
“A novel of stillness and reflection. . . . Carpenter’s greatest accomplishment here may be her success at creating an Olympian warrior who seems entirely human, modest and decent. . . . Carpenter’s intelligence and sincerity find powerful expression in the novel’s sophisticated structure. . . . This story reminds us that each of these warriors, no matter how brave and tough and deadly, is still some woman’s beloved son.”
The Washington Post

“Carpenter provides a convincing portrait of an exclusive and exclusively male military subculture.”
—The New York Times Book Review

“Assured debut. . . . [An] affecting portrayal of maternal love at a time of war.” —Vogue
“Carpenter’s incisive, graceful novel is certain to vault to the top of any list of high quality literature about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The Daily Beast

“A compelling story made memorable by the strength of its elegant prose.”
—Toni Morrison, author of Home

“The finest analysis of special operations I have ever read.”
—Ambassador Frank G. Wisner

Eleven Days is a powerful, moving read: Jason and his Argonauts reborn as Navy Seals. But it is far more than just a compelling story; it’s a window onto the new world of 21st century warfare.”
—Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of Keeping Faith with our Values in a Dangerous World

“What Denis Johnson did for the Vietnam War in Tree of Smoke, Lea Carpenter does for Iraq and Afghanistan in her superb Eleven Days. She drills deeply into the culture and lore of special operations warfare, and just as deeply into the minds of the people—the military-intellectual complex, if you will—who ultimately determine the American way of making war. But at the core of this extraordinary novel is the love of a mother for her child. That’s the story of us all, and that’s the story that may well break your heart.”
—Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

“An extraordinary accomplishment. Written with an elegant precision, this book is at its core a story about love: between a mother and a son, a son and a father, and a special group of men for each other and the imperfect country they choose to serve.”
—Kevin Powers, author of The Yellow Birds

“A beautiful, and original, work of art. Eleven Days manages to be both a meditation on courage and a gripping read. Scholarly and stylish, displaying a capacious mind and even greater heart. A magnificent debut.”
—Alexandra Styron, author of Reading My Father

“Not only a dramatic, affecting and wholly original story about war from a woman’s point of view but an incisive look at the experience of special operations.”
—Doug Stanton, author of In Harm’s Way and Horse Soldiers

“Powerful, moving and beautifully written, this story of a mother and her son shows us how 9/11 has changed our lives forever.”
—Bob Kerrey, author of When I Was a Young Man

“Filled with characters who exist on the edge of emotion. . . . Poignant prose and an impeccably structured narrative.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Assured. . . . A highly moral anti-war novel without noisily announcing itself as such. . . . This well-turned story packs plenty of emotion. . . . Among the smartest of the batch of recent American war novels.”
—Kirkus Reviews

Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

The introduction, discussion questions, and suggested further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Eleven Days, Lea Carpenter’s astonishing debut novel about a single mother and her Navy SEAL son.

About the Guide

As the novel begins, Sara’s son, Jason—on his fifth tour of duty—has been missing in action for nine days, after the most secretive and important special operations mission of his career. Sara’s suffering is compounded by the fact that Jason’s father, David, had died when Jason was only eight and had left them long before that, engaged in some mysterious work overseas.
 
Though Sara lives alone in a simple farmhouse in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, she has become a local celebrity, with the press corps camped out in her driveway, waiting for word about the son of a man, well known in diplomatic and military circles, who had himself reportedly died to “make this country safer” [p. 8]. Sam, one of Jason’s friends from the “Teams,” has come to live with Sara and see her through this most difficult of times.

 The novel proceeds in chapters alternating between past and present, told from either Sara’s or Jason’s point of view, and creating a narrative tension that draws the reader in. Some chapters are devoted to Jason’s incredibly intense training as a Navy SEAL, but it is the ethos and culture of the Teams that Jason finds most compelling—the loyalty, teamwork, attention to detail, restraint, and willingness to sacrifice oneself for one’s fellow team members. The goal is to become not merely a solider but a warrior, in the most exalted and valorous sense of that term. In a letter to his mother, Jason writes about the Inner Warrior who knows when to act and when to refrain, a skill that has become increasingly important in the new warfare, often played out at close quarters, in clearing rooms rather than large-scale engagements on battlefields.

As the days pass, Sara remembers the gentleness and intelligence of her son, who she had hoped would be different from his father and grow up unfamiliar with “words like Kalashnikov, katusha, or jezail” [p. 4]. But after 9/11, Jason chooses military service over Harvard and his access to what might have become a political or diplomatic career in Washington, D.C.
 
As the novel races to its suspenseful conclusion, more of David’s secret life is revealed, and the true nature and importance of Jason’s mission emerges. Jason must face an extraordinary challenge, one that calls for both courage and compassion, an ultimate test of his strength as a perfect warrior.
 
Eleven Days is a remarkably original novel about war in that it focuses more deeply on the idealistic culture and ethos of the warrior, and the demanding training a warrior must undergo, rather than the violence of war itself. It offers a fresh view of the American military, a view that may surprise readers of all political persuasions. But it above all is a novel about the love between a mother and son, and the true source of the courage that inspires a man to a heroic act.

About the Author

Lea Carpenter graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton and earned an MBA from Harvard, where she was valedictorian. An editor of Zoetrope and a former deputy publisher of The Paris Review, she launched Think, See, Feel, where she writes the English Lessons blog as well as being a blogger for Big Think, which has two million unique visitors a month. This is her first novel.

Discussion Guides

1. The themes of young men going off to war, and the overwhelming anxiety this causes their mothers, extends as far back as ancient Greece. In what ways does Eleven Days both participate in and add to this literary tradition? What is new and unique about the novel? What are some of the novel’s most emotionally wrenching moments?

2. When Jason asks his mother about the difference between “myths” and “fictions,” she tells him: “A myth is a fiction that matters” [p. 241].She also quotes her favorite writer, Joan Didion: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live” [p. 241]. What role do myths, fictions, and stories play in the novel? How are the mythic stories of Thetis and Achilles, and Jason and the Argonauts, especially relevant to Sara and Jason?

3. What is the effect of the novel’s cutting back and forth between Sara’s and Jason’s perspectives and between different time periods? Would the novel have been less effective or suspenseful if told in a straight chronological order and from a single point of view?

4. What motivates Jason, beyond the attacks of 9/11, to join the military? Why does he keep going back for five tours?

5. How have Sara and Jason each been affected by David’s absence? In what ways does David’s absence deepen the bond between mother and son?

6. In a letter to his mother, Jason talks about his training and what he’s learning about the Inner Warrior. He writes: “The Inner Warrior is kind of like the Editor inside us. It is the voice you hear that tells you not just what to do but what not to do, too. ... You have to be able to do everything, and then you have to have the ability to refrain from doing anything. That last skill is often the most powerful of all” [p. 76]. Why is this kind of restraint so important in the context of the new forms warfare has now taken? What other aspects of his training, and the specific military ethos of the Teams, affect Jason most strongly?

7. Eleven Days offers a rare inside look at the unique training and culture of Navy SEALs. What aspects of this training—and the ethos that it promotes—were most surprising?

8. What is the symbolic significance of Jason’s decision to go back for the baby he hears crying in the Kill House—of risking his life to save a child? Why does it seem both unexpected and inevitable that he would make that choice? What are the consequences, for all concerned, of his actions?

9. Near the end of the novel, Sara thinks that David “had drifted, at last, to that higher plane he’d long desired to live on, where nothing could hold him to gravity’s laws. He would float above feelings. He always had. But what was her task now?” [p. 252]. Has David’s spiritual life been a form of escape, a kind of spiritual bypassing, a way to avoid difficult feelings? How is Sara different from David in how she handles her emotional life? What is the task that she must now accomplish?

10. Sara waits several months before reading the letter [p. 253] Jason left for her, until she feels emotionally ready. Many writers would have taken full advantage of Sara’s response to the letter, which was no doubt profound, but Carpenter chooses to leave that to the reader’s imagination. Why might the author have made this decision? In what ways does Jason’s letter land with greater power because readers don’t get to see Sara’s response?

11. At the end of the novel, when Sara visits Arlington National Cemetery, she thinks, This is the first place people should come if they want to understand us [p. 259]. Why does she feel this way? How might Arlington illuminate something essential about the American character?

12. The final mission Jason leads occurs on May 2, 2011, the same date that Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs. In what important ways does the novel diverge from the actual events of that night? What is it that can make fiction that grows out of real, historical events so compelling?

13. Most novels about war have been written by men. In what ways does Eleven Days offer a uniquely feminine perspective on war?

14. What makes the ending of the novel so moving? Is there a hint of hopefulness for Sara in the book’s closing paragraphs?

Suggested Readings

David Abrams, Fobbit; Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk; T. Geronimo Johnson, Hold It ´Til It Hurts; Yasmina Khadra, The Sirens of Baghdad; Jon Krakauer, Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman; Mark Owen with Kevin Maurer, No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama bin Laden; Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds.

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