Now in paperback
A stunning debut novel–unexpected, tautly written, suspenseful–that touches on some of the most profound questions we have about war as it tells us a haunting story of a single mother, and her son, a member of the US Special Operations Forces.
A deeply affecting story about a mother and a son that attests to the debut of an extraordinarily gifted writer… Ms. Carpenter makes palpable the immensely complicated emotional arithmetic that binds this mother and son – Sara’s cherishing of her only son and her knowledge that she needs to let him find his own way in life; Jason’s worries about his mother’s worries, clashing up against his passionate embrace of a dangerous profession. In doing so Ms. Carpenter has written a novel that maps – much the way that Jayne Anne Phillips’s classic Machine Dreams and Bobbie Ann Mason’s In Country did – the fallout that war has not just on soldiers, who put their lives on the line, but also on their families, who wait anxiously back home.
– Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
Lea Carpenter’s ELEVEN DAYS is an extraordinary accomplishment. Written with an elegant precision, this book is at its core a story about love: between a mother and a son, a son and a father, and a special group of men for each other and the imperfect country they choose to serve. I highly recommend it.
– Kevin Powers, author of The Yellow Birds
A compelling story made memorable by the strength of its elegant prose.
– Toni Morrison
What Denis Johnson did for the Vietnam War in Tree of Smoke, Lea Carpenter does for Iraq and Afghanistan in her superb ELEVEN DAYS … But at the core of this extraordinary novel is the love of a mother for her child. That’s the story of us all, and that’s the story that may well break your heart.
– Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (National Book Award for Fiction finalist 2012)
ELEVEN DAYS is, at its heart, the story of a mother and a son.
It begins in May 2011: Sara’s son Jason has been missing for nine days in the aftermath of a special operations forces mission. Out of devotion to him, Sara–smart, modest, tough-minded–has made herself knowledgeable about things military, and, as a freelance editor, she frequently works for Washington policy makers. But she knows nothing more about her son’s disappearance than the press corps camped out in her driveway. In a series of flashbacks we learn about Jason’s absentee father: a man who claimed to have been a writer but who died, according to “insiders,” helping to make the country safer. Through letters Jason wrote his mother while training, we see him becoming a strong, compassionate leader. But his fate will be determined by events that fall outside the sphere of his training, and far outside the strong embrace of his mother’s love.
It’s also the story of this current generation of soldiers and what drives them. Jason is brought up by his mother Sara in a small town in Pennsylvania away from the complications of Washington where she met his father. He’s an extraordinary boy who decides, on 9/11, to forego his mother’s ambitions for Harvard in favour of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, after which he enters into the toughest military training in the world: for the U.S. Naval Special Warfare’s Navy SEAL Teams. He ends up on a mission the night of 2 May 2011 (the same night of the historic Osama bin Laden raid), from which he goes missing.
The novel weaves together years of Jason’s training in special operations forces with agonising days in the life of Sara as she waits for news of him. The book considers a classic question : why do nations send sons to wars and how can mothers bear it? As well as a touching picture of the bond between a mother and a son this is a unique look into the training, history and culture of one of the world’s elite forces. Page-turning and haunting, this is an astonishing debut which questions the very nature of sacrifice and love.
Think Homeland in fiction form and you get some idea of the twists and turns of this novel about the military and the nature of sacrifice and love.
Viv Groskop, Red Magazine UK
Riveting and deeply moving – every mother should read this.
Frances Osborne, author of Park Lane & The Bolter
Stripped of either satire or extreme violence, [ELEVEN DAYS] lingers on the cold inevitabilities of conflict, which makes it a highly moral anti-war novel without noisily announcing itself as such… This well-turned story packs plenty of emotion. Among the smartest of the batch of recent American war novels.
With poignant prose and an impeccably structured narrative, Carpenter’s novel is the sweet pitch before the violin screeches; the concluding state of reverence for a world we can’t control and a song for the war in Afghanistan that provides comfort without reason.
A stark debut… Written in simple but stirring prose, it’s an elegant meditation on the love between a mother and son.
[An] incisive, graceful novel which is certain to vault to the top of any list of high quality literature about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan… Good fiction like this bears emotional authority that transcends the question of whether something “could” occur… Carpenter’s writing is resonant in a way that doesn’t call attention to itself, but builds upon itself, sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter, to serve the whole of the book… Perhaps one of the most impressive—and unconventional—qualities of ELEVEN DAYS is the lack of a traditional antagonist. That’s assuredly intentional. This isn’t an “us” versus “them” narrative. It’s about the nature of mythology, how it’s shaped, why it’s crafted, and what it does to us as a culture and society… With searing, sometimes uncomfortable truths like that found throughout Eleven Days, Lea Carpenter has written a novel that matters.
The Daily Beast
An assured debut novel… [An] affecting portrayal of maternal love at a time of war.
The most remarkable aspect of ELEVEN DAYS is the fact that Carpenter depicts the civil-military divide without a hint of irony, instead choosing to tell her story with deep heart and conviction, not unlike the sense of duty that Jason exhibits throughout the book.
World Policy Journal blog
Here American writer Lea Carpenter has produced a phenomenon that I never cease to be amazed and cheered by: an exceptional debut novel.
Every soldier was, once, someone’s child. With this ineluctable truth at her story’s core, Lea Carpenter has crafted a beautiful, and original, work of art. Eleven Days manages to be both a meditation on courage and a gripping read. Scholarly and stylish, displaying a capacious mind and even greater heart. A magnificent debut.
Alexandra Styron, author of Reading My Father
The writing quality was superb – it captivated me and took me on an emotional roller-coaster, without ever becoming sentimental.
Farm Lane Books
Lea Carpenter graduated summa cum laude phi beta kappa from Princeton and has an MBA from Harvard. She was one of the original editors at Francis Ford Coppola’s literary magazine, Zoetrope, and later served as Deputy Publisher for The Paris Review.
She lives in New York with her husband and their two sons. She has served in various capacities at the New York Public Library for over fifteen years, where she assists with new programming initiatives.
This is her first novel.