If you read the premise for Pieces of Me, it is easy to become skeptical that the novel exists simply as an overly romanticised love story smack bang in the middle of a conflict which is in no way romantic. Emma, our protagonist, meets her husband Adam in the International Zone in Baghdad, in the middle of the US invasion of Iraq. She is working with civilians, helping them gain emergency visas to get out of the country. He is an army medic. Both roles seem carefully chosen, as if in order to deflect as much guilt away from the couple as possible. The scenes which detail their early days of love around the compound are the novel’s least convincing. Hart struggles to find the nuance between the selfishness of new love and the brutal consequences of the war zone around them.
However, once Emma is left alone, both in the International Zone and then at home when Adam heads back out to Baghdad, the novel shows its true colours as more than just a love story. Here, Emma’s isolation becomes the focus – she is a woman whose identity is tied invariably with those who she is able to help. As she struggles to navigate the reality of having a husband in a war zone, her own desire to return to Baghdad, the social scene of the military wives, and her attempts to find parts of herself in the art shop she works at, the mosaic which she fails to piece together becomes an apt metaphor for her own character. Female identity at its most inward facing runs alongside the collective male identity of the soldier in a style which is both frustrating and heartbreaking. Hart is presenting fractured identity at its best, and in doing so creates a deeply satisfying examination of the self.
Yet it is not just Emma’s identity which appears fractured – Hart’s thoughts on war also seem to shift and break throughout the novel. Emma and Adam’s unashamed love of Iraq pierces through their work, and whilst it is clear that both characters are devoted to helping others, Hart is not shy to show that this seemingly selfless work is more about themselves than anyone else. It is this brutal honesty which saves the novel from being overly devoted to seduction of war – her fractured thoughts highlight the inability to pin down one true version of war aptly.
Finally, the novel is driven and exciting to read. There is no faulting Hart’s style, it is a joy to read and the pages seem to turn themselves. Pieces of Me is a great read for those who want to understand more about war and its effects without losing out on romance.
Pieces of Me by Natalie Hart
Legend Press (2018)
Image: Legend Press.