This is a pilgrimage, not just a book; prepare to be taken under siege- parched and exhausted.
Falcons On the Floor
$12 | Publishing Genius
I’m at a complete loss for how to talk about this book. I’ve started this review now 5 times, and each time, my head clouds, thoughts make a mess of themselves, I stammer a few sentences into the keyboard, maybe a full paragraph, then cut the whole thing out and copy it into a waste file. Maybe a sentence or two will work for later.
The thing is, this book is important. It’s so important that I’m terrified of messing it up. There’s so much to this book that I could talk about: how well-drawn the characters, Justin’s lyricism, the authenticity Justin achieved thanks to Iraqi refugee Haneen Alshujairy, and maybe I’ll talk about that, but most of all, I want all of that to point to one very simple, true thing: This book is important.
This book isn’t without its flaws, of course. Let’s just get this out of the way. There are some mechanics towards the end that get a little loose, a few moments where a slip in narrative affected my ability to be fully immersed in the story. There are some typos. Okay. And these things I’m sure lessened the book’s impact to a small degree. To Sirois’s credit, he was managing some complicated shifts, and to Publishing Genius’s credit, this was the first novel they’ve undertaken. But I hope if or when you go to read this book, you’ll show grace, you’ll understand how even the most important things can go unpolished.
* * *
Falcons follows the trail of two Fallujan refugees, Kahlil and Salim, who flee the city before the Coalition forces first lay siege on the city. They make their way up the Euphrates River to Ramadi. Salim wants to find the Internet, to connect with a girl, to say “I’m alive.” Kahlil just doesn’t want to die for a cause he’s not sure he believes in.
In the hands of many others, this story at this point in history could easily become politicized, polarized (War is evil! or The jingos ate your baby, or America fuck yeah!), but Sirois manages to tell the story without a lean. He tells it on its human terms. All the characters are affected by the war, of course, and the war acts as an impetus for many of their actions, but this novel isn’t about the war; the war is merely its horrific background, a circumstance at most, a thing that humans do and that makes humans do things, whether brave or cowardly or both.
* * *
About 30 pages into Falcons, I remembered my cousin. My cousin has a bullet in his leg–its lead encased in a full metal jacket buried in the thick of his muscle, it would cause more harm to remove than to let become a part of him. The bullet became a part of him somewhere near Mosul, Iraq when he took part in the raid that captured one of Saddam’s sons. When Sirois writes about the start of the siege on Fallujah, I imagined Mosul, I imagined what might cousin might’ve seen:
A jet tore through the fading sunset. A slower plane trailed behind, growling low. The real siege had begun.
Salim waited for Khalil to pivot around. He never did.
They both face Fallujah and the escalating barrage until an earth-cracking concussion thunderclapped and sucked up all sustenance, backlighting the silouetted palm trees like black and frozen fireworks in the sky. Embers sparkled, perishing in the wind. The rancid tang of phosphorus chlorinated their tongues until it was all they could taste.
This is what Sirois does throughout Falcons. There are these times when Sirois’s language makes the book come to life in such a way you can taste the musk of the Euphrates, where in your teeth you grind at the grit of the Iraqi sand–I half expect Salim and Khalil to turn towards me, to ask for help: a gallon of fresh water, a can of anything other than chick peas, a blanket.
It is important for me, for us, to read this book, because to understand what is happening in this world, we need to understand, if even vicariously, what it is like to have war waged upon us. My cousin went to war. The war didn’t come to my cousin. This is an important distinction to understand, how we are a part of waging war, and of war waged, how we are a part of everything, and everything a part of us.
* * *
The river that is part of our bodies just as it is part of the country. We will carry this river with us. We were born from it and we will return to it, and like the soldiers in the boat riding its cordial passageways the river treats each visitor equally–with the same complacent undertows and swells, currents gravitating seaward, Khalil and I struggle against its flow, against the natural order of war and whatever follows the war.
If we are escaping one thing, we are following something else. Are we brave enough to admit this?
-from the laptop of Salim Abid
It’s no secret.
I’ve been a huge supporter of all the awesome things Justin Sirois and Haneen Alshujairy have cooked up over the past few years. MLKNG SCKLS was one of the first books on the Vouched table, and continues to hold a place there today. I pushed as hard as I could to support the Understanding Campaign in its fledgling state as a blog, and then later for their huge Kickstarter undertaking.
And now, I’m so stoked to have gotten this email from Publishing Genius Press today about the launch of pre-orders for Falcons on the Floor, a book I’ve been anticipating for a long, long time:
I’m excited to announce that Justin Sirois’s much anticipated novel, Falcons on the Floor, is up for pre-order today! This one means a lot to me because of the scope of the book. It’s about Salim and Khalil, two young friends escaping Fallujah, Iraq, at the height of the war. Carefully researched with Haneen Alshujairy, herself an Iraqi refugee, Falcons on the Floor was praised by Dahr Jamail for its “deep understanding of what occupation does, to civilians and soldiers alike.”
Order it in the next few days for just $12 and you’ll get a signed copy bundled with a unique art print (see it below). Plus you’ll be entered to win a bonus hardcover version (very limited edition). More information is at www.FalconsontheFloor.com. The book should ship in December, but it’s not out officially till March.
I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s very existence means the world is and can be a better place.
This month, Justin Sirois is guest editor over at Everyday Genius. All the pieces published this month are responses to an animated gif, like this one to which Lily Hoang responded to with her story “Twins.”
She’d always wanted girls, two of them twins twinning and twisting, she always imagined they’d be the same, look the same, speak in their special twin language. Instead, she got boys, two of them, not twins in the least, different as planets from separate galaxies: more like one was a burnt out moon full of dust and death, the other like a pale planet one its way out. Determined, she calls them Shelley and Sheldon. Determined, she puts them in the same clothes. They are a riot of a bunch, if two could ever be called a bunch. And she bunches their hair into horse’s tails: she calls them unicorns, their little penises had to have some use.
There’s something terrifying to me about this story. This story reads like an underlying fairytale, but I can’t help but remember my dad telling me once how my mom had it all planned out. She wanted a boy and a girl. I was supposed to be the girl. She even had a name for me: Angie Dawn.
But when I came out of that womb, my tiny newborn penis the heir apparent and the doctor, “Congratulations, Mrs. Newgent. It’s a boy,” I wonder if there was a disappointment there. I wonder if my mother’s first thought about me beyond the elation of her labor coming to an end was disappointment.
Shortly after my mother died, I was checking out at a local grocery store. My girlfriend at the time and I were there buying groceries, and I think I said something jokingly that ended up sounding kind of prickish, and I immediately apologized, felt awful. The lady at the cash register just laughed, smiled at me, said, “Oh, I know it was a joke. You seem like a nice young man. Your mother would be proud.”
It stopped me dead in my tracks. I just stared at her, unmoving. I almost cried right there in the checkout line. It was months after my mom’s death. I could laugh easily when a friend accidentally tossed a “Your mom,” joke my way. And this lady, out of nowhere, “Your mother would be proud.” I gathered my groceries. It was all I could do to walk away, and God, I hope she’s right.