by Jerry Waxler
Note: The word “launch” in the title of this article refers to the act of leaving home. When a ship launches, it simply glides down into the water. When a young adult goes out into the world, it can be much more complicated. Memoirs about launching are one of my favorite subgenres, and Dorit Sasson’s Accidental Soldier is one of my favorite representatives of that subgenre.
When Dorit Sasson was on the threshold of becoming an adult, her top priority was to get away from her neurotic mother. The obvious escape route led to her father’s homeland, Israel. But when she arrived there, she followed a surprising impulse. She volunteered for the Israeli army. This led her on an unusual road to womanhood, forcing her to shed her insecurities and to become more comfortable as a person.
Everything about her memoir, Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces, fascinated me.
It was one of the most complex, well-developed launching-from-child-to-adult stories I’ve read. In an impeccable story arc, it begins with a young woman, struggling to find the inner strength to face the world. As she copes with a series of obstacles, she gradually learns and grows.
One of her main challenges is her search for identity. Her journey from the U.S. to Israel created an important inner conflict, forcing her to figure out which nationality would define her. In Israel she was the “New Yorker” creating a subtle tension, never quite belonging to any one group. The group-identity struggles continue as she longs to be accepted by the other soldiers in her unit.
Figuring out which group one belongs to is often a crucial step in the process of growing up and has figured prominently in some of my favorite memoirs.
For other examples of young people trying to find their cultural identity as part of their search for adult self, read New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker, in which a young Mormon woman trying to fit into mainstream New York; Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas, in which she tries to figure out if she is Iranian or American; Catfish and Mandala by Andrew X. Pham about a young Vietnamese American on a similar search. And My Father’s Gardens by Karen Levy, another memoir about the tension between Israeli and American identity.
Accidental Soldier is deliciously psychological in other ways, too. It digs deep into the dysfunctional relationship with her mother. And the book provides a wonderful example of how fretful thoughts add to a suspenseful story.
Fortunately, by the end, the author achieved satisfaction. As a result, so did I.
Her denouement provide an excellent example of the way a memoir author can lead readers beyond the pages of the book, and provides a foreshadowing of life to come.
To learn more about how she crafted the book, I reached out and asked her for insights about how she achieved this level of professionalism, psychological insight, and good story telling. Our dialog follows in the next post.
For another memoir about a young woman entering a war with a camera rather than a gun, see My Journey Through War and Peace: Explorations of a Young Filmmaker, Feminist and Spiritual Seeker by Melissa Burch
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