Article by Dan Pugh
“Iraq has invaded our home. It is in the images that flash into our living room, with close-ups of stomping military boots. It is the burning metal wreckages that used to be cars. It is the grieving women who beat faces streaked with tears…”
Natalie Hart’s recently released debut novel, ‘Pieces of Me’, is a stunningly crafted story of the devastating effects of war, and the fragility of love in the face of conflict. Hart, a Lancaster University graduate, draws on her own experiences working as a qualitative researcher in Baghdad, where the story is set. Using the female protagonist Emma to take the reader on a personal journey, exploring the urgency and vulnerability of the war-torn Middle East, and the permanent scars and imprints left on the character as she tries to settle post-war in Colorado.
We follow Emma in two parallel storylines, the author moving between the present and past to highlight the impact of the war in immediacy, as well as the more profound, long-lasting effects. Working to provide visas to Iraqis in the International zone, Emma is strong and courageous, an independent fighter. Through her internal monologues and thoughts, we are given a sense of the magnitude of her plight, as every day is a test of her professionalism, often challenged by moral or ethical dilemmas or a reminder that she is working in a conflict zone.
Joining Adam, a fellow soldier and her partner, Emma tries to settle in Colorado, before Adam is re-deployed and she is left feeling the same isolation and fear that she became used to in Iraq. Hart uses the events of the book to display Emma’s rollercoaster of emotions. We see her fear and vulnerability in the International zone, her strength and bravery in the face of conflict and danger, her awkwardness and lack of self-esteem, and her isolation and loneliness, struggling to fit in as a Brit in Colorado. Emma becomes distinctly relatable to every reader and is by no means a princess that needs saving. In fact, helping Iraqis, her friends in the International zone and Adam, who is caught up in the devastating effects of war and conflict, it is Emma who is always the hero of the story.
Hart has crafted a fantastic character in Emma, a strong female protagonist whose internal thoughts, brought to us by Hart’s subjective writing, allow us to feel and understand her deepest emotions. The story and its events are captivating, and very well written; it was effortless for me to read many chapters at a time without noticing. Hart also combines varying writing styles to keep the discourse fluid and engaging, with one-page, highly descriptive and metaphorical chapters to explore Emma’s mind, mixed with fast-paced, detailed action scenes. The ever-present threat of war and conflict also ensure every chapter is fraught with tension and suspense, and the choice to write the story in three sections (pre-deployment, deployment, and post-deployment) allow Hart to focus on an extensive story in smaller parts, centring on the effects of war before, during and after a loved one is deployed. As well as the story of Adam being implemented, we follow Emma’s story as she tries to come to terms with the preparations, Adam’s deployment and his return, with the latter being the hardest to come to terms with.
The book is a fantastic read, providing a perspective on war and conflict that is original and refreshing, and presents the reader with many questions to ponder. I would certainly recommend it to any reader looking for a book that is both action-filled and intense and emotively romantic.