While Sgt. Francis D. Sommer was fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, his father stood on a street corner in Kansas City with an antiwar sign. Losing Francis: Essays on the Wars at Home reconciles that seeming contrast in a courageous dive into the personal cost of America’s wars. Fusing his eloquent meditations on nature, art, and grief with the political and social backdrop of these wars, Robert F. Sommer exposes the disconnect between the world of war and the universe of no-war in a nation that often seems preoccupied only with amusing itself. He skillfully weaves a compelling narrative throughout these essays in the finely-honed prose of a master craftsman.
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“Robert F. Sommer’s book of essays, Losing Francis, offers a unique and urgent contribution to the literature of the Bush wars. After deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Sommer’s son battled hearing loss, kidney damage, and a deep sense of moral unease about his war experiences, before dying in a car accident. This powerful recounting of one veteran’s life doubles as a history of the Bush era, told by a watchful father, torn between love for his son, and distrust of the wars he’s been sent to fight. Both harrowing and lovely, Losing Francis is a vibrant, indispensable document of life in our time.”
–Whitney Terrell, author of The Good Lieutenant
"A poignant account of one couple's journey through the shadow cast by the death of their son. Inextricably woven into the story is the nefarious reality of the nation's ruinous recent wars. A compelling and insightful book."
—Mark Karlin, Editor, BuzzFlash at Truthout
“Robert F. Sommer’s Losing Francis: Essays on the Wars at Home is a powerful meditation on grief and memory that centers around the loss of his son: a troubled youth, a decorated soldier, and a struggling veteran, who, like so many veterans of the recent wars, finds re-entry into civilian life a challenge he could not overcome. Sommer’s prose often rises to the poetic, his storytelling is poignant yet never sentimental, and his unflinching honesty in relating his son’s life and death leave the reader with a lump in the throat and a righteous anger. Losing Francis will surely take its earned place in the lamentably-large library of great literature of the home front.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, Oklahoma State Poet Laureate 2017-18, author of What I Learned at the War
“Losing Francis is a father's loving elegy-in-essays about a combat veteran son who survived the worst in Afghanistan and Iraq, but who could not expiate what he had seen and done afterwards. What hope did his son have, Robert F. Sommer asks, in anAmerica that seems incurious about its own wars and that prefers lip-service to empathy? Losing Francis is a lyrical indictment of the historical, political, and cultural forces that keep America at war, and then leave its veterans out in the cold. It also models a way forward. If the United States it is to live up to its best self, if it is to become a supportive home to its veterans, it must find the strength to be honest about the foreign and American lives its wars destroy. Robert F. Sommer shows us how.”
—Max Rayneard, The Telling Project
“Robert F. Sommer has written a remarkably compelling book with boldness and startling passion. He shows us that even after the last troop comes home, war is never over. Losing Francis recounts his story about the short-circuiting of the life of his son with eloquence and insight, but most of all, with astonishing courage. It reverberates and teaches and beyond all else, it rings with hope.”
—Barry Sanders, author of The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism
“In Losing Francis: Essays on the Wars at Home, Robert F. Sommer captures the realities of war and its effects both on soldiers and their parents, who deal with so much they can’t control, including sometimes the loss of a child. This is first-rate, thoughtful writing that will move any reader.”
—Maryfrances Wagner, Thorpe Menn Literary Excellence Award recipient for Red Silk and co-editor of I-70 Review
“Losing Francis: Essays on the Wars at Home is a must read for all Americans, but as author Robert F. Sommer himself concedes, most Americans, dawdling over trivial engagements and personal comforts, have only fleeting interest in America's involvement in wars fought in far places or the men and women sent there to fight, suffer, and die. That leaves those of us who have experienced war, directly or indirectly, to reflect on Sommer's experiences of dealing with the post-discharge loss of his son in a war that was, and continues to be, at best, ill-conceived.
“Sommer's syntax is at once scholarly and lyrical – and his message heartbreaking. He will make you angry at a government that spends weeks training soldiers to kill and go to war, only to let them fend for themselves when they come home. In his search for the truth about his son's deployments, he writes, ‘I too had become an actor in a play I didn't write…. Participation was not an option.’”
—H C Palmer, author of Feet of the Messenger
“In Losing Francis, Sommer renders the ongoingness of loss – a process without end but with certain key beginning and mutation points. It is an indictment of our national tolerance for the casualties of war and a probing act of devotion in which absences (of a child, of a nation’s sense of its own culpability) are made palpable through the small moments and consequential events that lead up to, surround, and define their shifting borders.”
—Elizabeth Witte, Associate Editor, The Common
and Director, The Common in the Classroom
“Losing Francis is a word-guided tour through different worlds collapsing into each other, some wanted, most not. It is the story of a son and parents thrown into the worlds of war and death, buddies and enemies, hope and anguish. That most feared news then comes not from the foreign fields but from highway police in the middle of the night. This painful tour challenges beliefs from all sides – those looking for growth in the military, those who look down on joiners, those who supported the wars, and those parents who hope. In the end there are no convenient lessons, only the tours of realities that one hopes will at least give pause. Too important to miss.”
—Michael McDermott, Co-founder and Director,
Black Earth Institute
About the Author:
Robert F. Sommer is the author of two novels, Where the Wind Blew (Wessex 2008) and A Great Fullness (Fomite 2016). His essays and stories have appeared in many literary and scholarly journals. Robert is a lecturer at the University of Saint Mary, Leavenworth, and works for the Sierra Club’s Kansas Chapter in support of its mission to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet.
• “Fifteen Years in Iraq” on Truthout
• “War as the Default Setting: Personal Cost of U.S. Wars” podcast on KKFI, Kansas City Community Radio
• Interview on KKFI