Laura McBride’s book, We Are Called to Rise, places us in the midst of a modern-day war story (Iraq). It’s a journey to discovery, a search for meaning–with none of the fairy-tale frills.

The story stands on its own, but it comes to represent a host of other books. There’s a universality in the depictions of tragedy–spanning around the world in a story that adapts and retells some of the basic stories of our time.

Along the way, the novel gets under your skin. As Atticus (in To Kill a Mockingbird) tells Scout: 

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

For me, We Are Called to Rise brought back memories of other readings: Pat Barker’s Regeneration (so full of the horrors of war), Willa Cather’s My Antonia (an immigrant family trying to survive under harsh circumstances), Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony (with Tayo’s search for meaning and healing), and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway

I thought about everything and nothing…

What is the book about: We Are Called to Rise?

It’s about hate, fear, loneliness, despair and madness. It’s about everything that’s wrong with this world, with moments of the most gut-wrenching hate and loathing. But, infused in the lines, we also find brief glimmers of hope. There’s survival, care, and a search for meaning.

They’re all lost and broken; but you’ll also find serendipitous moments. As life goes on, we’re given brief flashes of epiphany.

Reality Bites…

It’s an over-simplification to say that the novel bombards us with heart-breaking pieces of human experience.

McBride tells us:

“I set out with the very clear intention to write a book that might make a reader have a big feeling, the sense that no matter how cruel or unfair life might be in a given moment, no matter how terrible the consequences of a tiny mistake might be, it was ultimately beautiful to be alive. I didn’t set out to write a book about war or poverty or racism. I just wanted the reader to love a child enough to feel devastated when that child’s heart was broken and euphoric when that child got a chance at hope. I wanted the reader to walk away believing that, with all our faults, human beings are worth saving.”

With reality (life) the way it so often is… those kids never had a chance. None of them did. The adults started out that way, and the kids find themselves in a world that seems to point them in the same tragic directions. And, to what end?

What do they have to look forward to: broken soldiers, divorce, abuse, and devastating (deadly) hate?

What Future, This?

There is no American Dream, except perhaps in some fractional-fictitious sense. Everyone dreams–they can’t help but do that. Then, when the dreams become nothing more than fanciful thinking, each of them must still move forward.

Survival is a choice for most in this book, although… yes, life is taken away from some–too soon. But, the rest of them (the ones that survive) work through the bad days, let themselves feel a little, and find that (somehow) life goes on.

Isn’t that what we all must do? Make a life (out of whatever misfortunes)–one day at a time, moment-by-moment…


  1. “Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.”
    — Joyce Carol Oates

Leave a Reply