The best books about PTSD and overcoming oppression of the human spirit

J. Conrad Guest Author Of A World Without Music
By J. Conrad Guest

Who am I?

My father retired from the Marines before he married my mother. Sadly, he was more drill instructor to me than father. He never shared with me his experience on Okinawa, yet he was proud of his service. He kept in touch with several marines and attended many reunions. It was only after Dad’s death that I discovered With the Old Breed. Eugene Sledge told me everything my father withheld from me, and why he was the way he was. Today, Dad would be diagnosed with PTSD. Thus began a quest to read other accounts of wartime experiences, as soldiers and civilians, which led me to write A World Without Music.


I wrote...

A World Without Music

By J. Conrad Guest,

Book cover of A World Without Music

What is my book about?

Can a Gulf War veteran suffering PTSD find the music to make his life worth living?

Reagan returns from the Gulf War haunted by horrific images of a dead marine he brought back from the desert. Seeking refuge from his nightmares in a jazz quartet in which he plays bass guitar, fifteen years elapse and he has a one-night fling with Rosary, a young woman he meets at a gig. When his ex-wife comes back into his life, Rosary’s obsession turns into a fatal attraction. With help from Tom Wallach’s ghost, the daughter Wallach never met, and a friend who is much more than he appears to be, Reagan discovers he must let go of his tortured past if he is to embrace the future.

The books I picked & why

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With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa

By E.B. Sledge,

Book cover of With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa

Why this book?

My dad fought on Okinawa, receiving a citation for his participation in the taking of Shuri Ridge. I never knew my dad as a Marine. I asked him once, when I was a boy, to tell me about his service, but he refused. I asked him again, during the final year of his life, and he again refused. Unfortunately, what he saw, what he endured, he took with him.

Eugene Sledge, in this memoir of his service on Peleliu and Okinawa, told me everything my dad withheld from me. This incredible account is hailed as the best World War II memoir of an enlisted man. Part adventure, part history, “Sledgehammer” not only relates many of the clichés every Hollywood movie depicted on the subject, but also everything they left out.


Fortunate Son: The Healing of a Vietnam Vet

By Lewis B. Puller Jr.,

Book cover of Fortunate Son: The Healing of a Vietnam Vet

Why this book?

Fortunate Son won a Pulitzer shortly after its release, and rightfully so. Puller’s story is a moving one—a story that no doubt belongs to thousands of Vietnam vets. Serving their country to the best of their ability, following orders handed down to them the result of a misguided administration with a political agenda. Suffering wounds, some physical, most emotional (like my dad), from which they could never truly heal because there was no reconciliation.

Often poignant, at times humorous, Puller’s memoir is a moving one. His account of his alcoholism—the anger, the lost temper, the blackouts, the memory loss, a divorce, a failed political career, and how the realization that he could never take another drink again was like losing a loved one—takes the reader into hell.


Flags of Our Fathers

By James Bradley, Ron Powers,

Book cover of Flags of Our Fathers

Why this book?

In Flags of Our Fathers, James Bradley recounts a story not so unlike my own and many other sons born of this generation of leathernecks. James is the son of John Bradley, who served on Iwo Jima as a corpsman and was awarded the Navy Cross for his service. He also was one of the boys who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi.

Flags is the result of James Bradley’s research and interviews with survivors of the battle for Iwo Jima, after his father’s passing. At times Flags reads like an action thriller, its battle sequences authentic not only in their depiction of all the clichés Hollywood made famous in the 1950s but in its realism of the true horrors of war, and the impact it had on the survivors.


The Secret Piano: From Mao's Labor Camps to Bach's Goldberg Variations

By Zhu Xiao-Mei, Ellen Hinsey (translator),

Book cover of The Secret Piano: From Mao's Labor Camps to Bach's Goldberg Variations

Why this book?

Zhu Xiao-Mei was born to middle-class parents in post-war China. Taught to play the piano by her mother at age 10, she developed into a prodigy.

But in 1966, when Xiao-Mei was seventeen, the Cultural Revolution began, and life as she knew it changed forever. One by one, her family members were scattered, sentenced to prison or labor camps. By 1969, the art schools had closed, and Xiao-Mei spent the next five years at a work camp. Life in the camp was nearly unbearable, thanks to horrific living conditions and intensive brainwashing. Yet through it all, Xiao-Mei clung to her passion for music.

Heartbreaking and heartwarming, The Secret Piano is the true story of one woman’s survival in the face of unbelievable odds—and in pursuit of a powerful dream.


Wave of Terror

By Theodore Odrach, Emma Odrach (translator),

Book cover of Wave of Terror

Why this book?

Hidden from the English-speaking world for more than 50 years, this panoramic novel begins with the Red Army invasion of Belarus in 1939. Ivan Kulik has just become headmaster of school number 7 in Hlaby, a rural village in the Marsh of Pinsk. Through his eyes, I witnessed the tragedy of Stalinist domination where people are oppressed, randomly deported to labor camps, or tortured in Zovty Prison in Pinsk.

The author’s individual gift that sets him apart from his contemporaries is the range of his sympathies and his unromantic, unsentimental approach to the sensual lives of women. His debt to Chekhov is obvious in his ability to capture the internal drama of his characters with psychological conciseness.

This historical novel serves as a stern warning against adopting socialism in America.


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