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  • Bill Schwab

"An American Dreamer" | Reviewed by Bill Schwab

David Finkel discloses the political division in the United States in his sensitive account of four years (2016- 20) in the life of Brent Cummings, an Iraq war veteran from Georgia. Readers become acquainted with Brent, his wife Laura, and their neighbor Michael who reveal starkly different visions of the future of the US.

“An American Dreamer” has been published just in time for the current presidential campaign when political rhetoric exhibits and magnifies these political divisions.

Finkel observed Brent Cummings for 14 years. The veteran’s military career spans 28 years, “all in the name of defending democracy.” Fourteen months of his service were spent serving in Iraq. Nearing the end of his military career, Cummings realizes he is no longer defending his homeland but is in it and is alarmed at its unraveling.

Cummings’ patriotism is established early. He is committed to the Constitution, democracy, and preserving the freedoms guaranteed to all citizens. Raised with the values of fairness, honesty, and respect for others, he is shocked and distressed by the fear and anger sweeping the country.

The author relates several scenes as evidence of the tension and anger of our times. In one scene, a grocery store clerk taunts an immigrant person of color on “White American Cheese.” In a boating incident, one man hits another with an oar and says, “That rage is in all of us. It's in me, and it's in you too.” Cummings is troubled by the ever-present fear and rage in the United States.

The veteran soldier suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder whose symptoms include traumatic dreams about combat in Iraq. He also has nightmares about the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, maintaining the insurrection confirmed in him that the Iraq “war was not over,” it was just in his beloved country where the enemy was no longer them. In “An American Dream” Finkel provides sharp observations of his fraught homeland.

Finkel’s simple style does not mean he has written a simple book. It is journalism at its best. This deeply reported and nuanced biography weaves together several themes that are intimate and haunting and help the reader understand the fragmented reality that is the US. Nearing the end of his honorable 28 years of US military service Cummings wonders, “What were the sacrifices for?”

About the author: Finkel is a journalist and author who received the Pulitzer Prize "for his ambitious, clear-eyed case study of the United States’  government’s attempt to bring democracy to Yemen.  He also received The MacArthur Fellowship, an $800,000 award, “for extraordinarily talented and creative individuals as an investment in their potential.” Finkel is a writer and editor at the Washington Post and has written two other books from his coverage of the war in Iraq, “The Good Soldier” and “Thank You for Your Service.”


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