By David Steinberg

Imagine this: A soldier who thinks he survived war because of the famous novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

Not the idea of the novel. But its physical presence.

The protagoinist in Sarah Stark’s debut novel  “Out There” is Jefferson Long Soldier, who returns home from wartime Iraq with a copy of the novel strapped to his chest.

Jefferson believes the book saved his life and remains a salve for his psyche. If only others would understand.

Not the doctor at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Albuquerque. Not the “pseudo-doctor” in Jefferson’s hometown of Santa Fe who encourages him to read different books. Solace, for Jefferson, is in Marquez’s novel, or as the book states “…the particular practice of reciting and chanting and singing Garcia Marquez’s words that he needed. …”

Stark’s debut novel tracks Jefferson’s attempts to cope with the torment of horrific wartime memories and his uncertain reintegration in civilian life. He reunites with his grandmother and his high school English teacher. But Jefferson is truly in search of his hero, Marquez. So Jefferson hops on a rebuilt motorbike and heads for Mexico to find him.

One source for the novel comes out of Stark’s teaching experience at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

Two weeks into her class’ study of Marquez’s novel a student just home from fighting in Iraq shared a connection with Marquez’s book. “He was a gifted creative writing student, a poet, and on the surface showed no indications of having been recently at war,” Stark said in a phone interview.

The author had already been thinking been thinking about the  war and  post-traumatic stress disorder, which Jefferson is probably suffering from.

For two years Stark said she was trying to find her way with the story; she began writing about soldiers who were poets and painters and their wartime experiences.

She decided to get back in touch with that former creative writing student to tell him what she was working on. “I tried to contact him on social media. Then I read his obituary. He took his own life. It was a devastating discovery. I was committed to the novel at that point,” Stark said.

She contacted his family and other war veterans in the community. Stark said she wanted her protagonist to be someone who did not take his life.

Stark wanted to leave open to readers’ interpretation how they understand PTSD. “The term has been bandied about and it has diminished our efforts as nonveterans to really think about and see and hear what perhaps veterans have experienced and comprehended, that they have been through something that we cannot understand,” she said.

So the author believes part of the novel is to challenge readers to think carefully about the psychological state of soldiers coming home from war.

Stark thinks of Marquez’s novel as a kind of anchor for her story. “It provided context for every situation,” she said.

She will discuss her novel “Out There” at 3 p.m. Sunday, July 6 at Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande NW and she’ll read from the book on July 12 at Enchanted Circle Memorial Museum in Eagle Nest.

The publisher of “Out There” is Leaf Storm Press of Santa Fe. Retail price is $17.95

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