The Servants Of Freedom Review
by: Jeff Leach - Amazon.com Reviewer
A truly magnificent effort.
When was the last time you read a story about an American Air Force officer serving in Europe in the 1970s written in the style of Ernest Hemingway, Eudora Welty, and William Wordsworth? If you answered "never," you haven't read Keith Parris's "The Servants of Freedom." When I first received a copy of this book, I snickered at the author's claims that he invoked the memory of the abovementioned writers in this lengthy novel. The snickering tapered off roughly twenty pages into the story, and stopped altogether soon after that. As hard as it is to believe, Parris has pulled off the impossible; he indeed wrote a story in the style of some of the nineteenth century masters. "The Servants of Freedom" is not only a riveting story about the trials and travails of a young Air Force officer struggling to fit into the grueling lifestyle of piloting jet fighters in Cold War Europe, the book also continually connects with the reader on an emotional level as the protagonist of the tale, Lieutenant Troy Pearson, learns about life and love from the men and women serving with him. The story even raises the specter of terrorism, race relations, and internecine squabbles in the armed services.
Troy Pearson always knew he wanted to fly when he grew up. As a child, he used to go out with friends and fly model airplanes on the weekends. When he graduated from college, Pearson joined the Air Force and went into fighter pilot training school. The rigors of the program, along with the abject brutality of learning how to survive capture by enemy forces during basic training, convinces the young pilot he will soon fly the friendly skies over Vietnam. Instead, the Air Force sends him to Europe to patrol the Iron Curtain. Stationed in West Germany, Pearson isn't on base for more than a few hours when a faction of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, that loveable gang of leftist losers who stirred up lots of trouble in Europe during the 1970s and 1980s, bombs the base's dining facilities. The terrible incident, which claims the life of one officer, doesn't stop our pilot from striking up a friendly relationship with Jenny Kiley, an Air Force brat who takes quite a shine to Pearson. Before he even climbs aboard a jet fighter, the pilot searches for an apartment with Kiley, weathers the ritual of driver training school European style, runs into a heap of trouble at a race relations seminar run by a scheming sergeant, and sits through a briefing mission about German terrorists.
Many of the incidents described in the book seem mundane on the surface. How much interest could an author inspire in his readers about driving school? About looking for an apartment? Or training in a flight simulator? As weird as it sounds, Parris manages to make every day activities seem magical. If you think about those nineteenth century authors, they did the same thing. You can pick up a book by Charles Dickens, George Eliot, or a handful of other writers of that era and run into a chance encounter between two acquaintances that encompass twenty or thirty pages of richly detailed text. Most modern writers skip over such banalities in favor of the spectacular or sensational because they don't know how to bring out the interesting nuances in every day life. Certainly, Parris's book does contain many scenes of on the edge of your seat action, particularly during the flying sequences, but the book's beauty resides largely in Pearson's interactions with his friends, his female encounters, and his thoughts about military life.
I suspect that most of us who have never served our country in the armed forces think of the military as a monolithic institution staffed by men and women trained to follow orders in lieu of any form of independent thinking, and this type of military does exist in the book. Repeatedly, Pearson must make choices and decisions based on rules that, if resulting in an error, could cost him his career. One example is the seminar on race relations where Pearson voices his opinion about how special privileges for certain minorities is itself a form of racism. His brave stand results in a showdown with the sergeant in charge of the program, a showdown fraught with peril for the young lieutenant when he must engage in a confrontation with a deeply bigoted enlisted man about a confederate flag in the barracks. While Parris's book does show how tough and sometimes unfair the military can be, he also shows the reader how many thoughtful, deeply sensitive men and women put on the uniform everyday in order to protect our country.
I don't think a thousand word review can do "The Servants of Freedom" any justice. Parris's book certainly ranks as one of the top five books I have read this year, an amazing revelation when one considers this novel is a self-published effort. As I read the book, I continually wondered why a big publisher didn't pick this one up for distribution. Perhaps the oddity of an eloquent prose style fused with the topic of the United States military struck some publishing houses as odd. I, however, loved the book and heartily recommend it to both fans of military literature and to general audiences. Hopefully, "The Servants of Freedom" will soon become one of those rare do it yourself books that grabs enough attention from readers that a HarperCollins or a similar publisher will step in and re-release it. Too, perhaps this humble review will draw a modicum of attention to a wonderful, magical read.