War Memoirs May Skew Details

A fellow blogger lists nine topics he finds that authors exclude form their war memoirs. I won’t repeat the topics here; click through to his blog On Violence if you’re curious. But I will take issue with his claim that writers who avoid topics they think readers may find unpleasant or boring compromise the integrity of their book.

I distinguish between “the truth??? and “the whole truth.??? I don’t think that you, as the writer of the story that by definition you own, are obligated to mention every last detail of what’s going on in the setting of that story. Number five on the blogger’s list is civilian deaths. “An honest memoir,??? the blogger writes, “will deal with this messy truth about any war.??? I disagree. If you’re writing a non-fiction account of the war, then I believe you should include the facts surrounding civilian deaths. But in your memoir? The war is just one more player in your story. You can write about as much or as little of it as you like, even if it becomes such a main character that you’re really writing a war memoir.

I am all for rich detail in a memoir. But the On Violence blogger calls his nine points a litmus test that must be passed for him to respect a war memoir. While I support writing only the truth in your autobiography, I  disagree that you must include the whole truth for your story to be compelling.