Not a traditional memoir, it’s more a rumination on the human soul in the path of large-scale violence. Calkin uses poetry, brief essays, and even letters (such as one she wrote to President Obama in protest of the Surge) to explore themes of violence and recovery — and yes, those are heavy themes, but Calkin’s humor, intelligent powers of observation, and bemused, patient love for her husband–as well as her simultaneous awe and pride in the survival of their 40-plus-year marriage–keeps the reading lively, and far more enjoyable than a summary of its themes would suggest.
Calkin follows the long road of violence, or, as Helen Benedict describes it, “the long reach of war.” Her poems and essays touch upon Afghan children, the lost souls of 9/11, bereaved spouses. In “The Wall,” she writes a phrase any military spouse feels all too keenly: “Your name is not there/ and that has made all the difference in my life.”
In the more everyday, mil-spouse-life sections of the book, Calkin’s recollections are relatable, touching and humorous. There are phone calls with a fellow spouse at 11: 30 every night while their husbands are away. In “Blinders:” “I haven’t changed the pillowcase:/ it still smells of you.”
There are her wry lines, in the poem “Marriage:”
Life is not perfect
but, amidst open seas, well
The Soul of My Soldier makes its perfect practice the art of informed, intellectual generosity. Generosity between two partners, sure, and also between Calkin’s smart, interrogating mind and the rest of the world, which is found complex and damaged but not destroyed — never destroyed while people still pay attention and while we are still trying to fix our mistakes, make things better and more peaceful than they were.
The final page of the book says, very simply, “Welcome Home.” I love that, in all its meanings. With The Soul of My Soldier, Calkin has welcomed Robert home in a more thoughtful variety of ways than most people get welcomed in their lifetimes. I hope he feels how genuinely he was worth it.
Andria Williams, author of The Longest Night,
and also the reviewer of Military Spouse Book Reviews.
“Abigail Calkin’s memoir is a beautifully written, deeply honest, and necessary book. This memoir blew me away.”
Abigail Thomas, memoirist,
What Comes Next and How to Like It; Three Dog Life
“Calkin gives a unique and very personal account of what it is like, from a wife’s perspective, to live with a career soldier and veteran of three combat tours in two very different wars. Abigail Calkin recounts the issues faced and the coping skills acquired over a decades-long marriage. Her stories and descriptions are at once instructive and yet deeply touching in the unfolding. She takes the time to give her biography so we might understand where she is coming from in the relationship.
I served briefly in Vietnam as a young aviator, but have seen the wounds, physical and otherwise, that war inflicted on many returning veterans. Much later I served as the Senior Director for Gulf War Illnesses on the National Security Council with responsibility for policy direction to improve DoD's response to the veterans returning from that war. No two wars are the same, yet the physical and mental anguish sustained in every one of them have remarkable similarities. Since the Vietnam War, our nation's armed forces have made great strides in recognizing the effects of PTSD, yet still we have not found effective ways to ensure all returning veterans find care sufficient to create coping skills to counter its effects, especially after separation from the Service. Abigail's book offers an insider’s view of how one person has managed. More importantly, she gives us a personal perspective of what a soldier's family, and especially the spouse, encounters in the relationship. This is a very different viewpoint than that normally encountered in reading about PTSD and one that has long been needed.”
Rear Admiral, USCG (ret)
"Wives get Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during their husbands’ deployments. Or, in this case, they turn to make art as a saving grace. This book holds wonderful combinations of essays and poetry with the assurance of a strong writer with subject matter no one would wish for. The prose is excellent — fast, clear reading — and the poetry is the tie that binds. Most of all, it’s an example of an unimpeded mind that can emphasize, and even flourish, interesting words that warrant deep consideration.
Shock and Awe
No, Mr. President. It’s called
Damage and Destruction.
We families get
to live with it for the rest of our lives."
Founder and producer "The Poet and the Poem" on public radio,
now from the Library of Congress.
Washington Independent Review of Books
“When the guns fall silent and troops return home, soldiers carry with them an emotional mine field. Through intimate poetry and honest prose, Calkin ventures into this treacherous terrain with courage. The Soul of My Soldier reveals the tender attentiveness required to survive and heal.”
author, Faith of Cranes
“Calkin deftly moves between prose and poetry in this affecting memoir of marriage. Ghosts of hard experiences weave through her words to reveal the power unresolved trauma wields on a relationship. Ms. Calkin reflects themes common to us all by lifting her emotional stones to expose what lies beneath.”
Nancy Hughes, Ph.D., LSCSW
“Calkin delves deeply, recounting the last 50+ years of her personal life, including her own struggles with trauma, and how she has coped with her lingering symptoms. Uniquely, she intersperses poetry throughout the work, which adds dimension and intensity to her revelations of life as the spouse of a soldier. Masterfully, Calkin outlines her culturally rich American roots, depicting herself as a feisty, yet sensitive woman; and a brilliant professional. Her appreciation for the sacrifices of American service members appears as primal and tangible as her respectful adoration of her husband, an Army veteran. This memoir bleeds with juxtapositions such as a Quaker woman marrying a soldier, and an independent woman entering into a military culture – wherein reliance on others is critical to mission success. Themes of growth, adaptation, and acceptance emerge throughout the work, mostly in reference to her marriage and life as an Army wife. These themes exemplify the endurance of the American military family, and may resonate with those readers who “served” while their spouse wore the military uniform. Non-military readers may find this memoir insightful, while those in the military and veteran community may feel emboldened after reading. Calkin’s description of her own marriage appears to be a metaphor for military service itself, whereby persistence and commitment to something larger than oneself delivers intrinsic rewards in spades.”
Dr. Kent A. Corso,
OEF Veteran and President of NCR Behavioral Health
“This is a powerful and poignant memoir. Right from the beginning, Calkin acknowledges that she will never understand what her spouse or other soldiers have gone through and she openly admits that this book is about her “quandary.” The stories and poems are one woman’s honest depiction of the challenges she has negotiated with her partner over the years. Her insights about PTSD and her sense of humor and compassion facilitate healing and learning. Calkin's desire to document her story may well offer those who have friends and family in the military the assurance that they are not alone. Above all, this book is a testimony of the love she has for Robert.”
Editor of Scroll in Space