Reading Lily Burana is like having very tasty martinis with a dear old friend who regales you with saucy, sassy, savvy stories about her wild and crazy life. I got to know Ms. Burana's writing in her first memoir, Strip City, about her retirement tour as a stripper. So I was very curious how in God's name this ex-sex worker radical punk bohemian could end up holding in a 40s style below the knee dress, waving an American flag on the cover of her new book, I Love a Man in Uniform: a Memoir of Love, War, and Other Battles.
Ms. Burana's odyssey takes us from the extreme American world of the strip club, where all is seen, but little is revealed; into another extreme American world that is completely public, yet strangely hidden, the inner sanctum of the US Military. Both are fascinating microcosms of United States. Each has its own code of conduct, moral structure, and of course, dress code. It is in the minutia of these worlds, from g-strings to dress blues, that Lily Burana strips away the veils of these particularly American worlds, and reveals us to ourselves, for better, and for worse.
Like any world, the military has its own language, and Ms. Burana displays her customary wit, wisdom and wordsmithing, in describing the myriad meanings of the word, "HOOAH." I laughed out loud, sitting alone in my room. But as the book moves on it deepens, when her brand-new husband is sent off to war, and she is left alone to build a life with someone she's not even sure she'll ever see again. The descriptions of how she controls her diet, the rituals she builds into her day, the almost fetishistic attachment to cell phone and computer, trying to gulp down the tiny little trickles of love from her man sweltering 6000 miles away in 120° hell all are riveting. And this is her skill ultimately, she makes you feel like you're there with her, going through it all. I felt the same way when she walked me into a strip club in the heartland of America in Strip City.
The sardonic dark humor, the sharp culture references, from Beckett to the Dixie Chicks, the illuminating eye and ear she brings to bear on the world of the military are also turned inward. So we get to peer into the heart and mind of someone trying to make it through an extreme trial by fire. And she's not afraid to show us when she drops the ball, when she doesn't rise to the challenge of being HOOAH.
It's fascinating to watch this character change right before your eyes. By the time we get to the end of this story, she is a different person than the cynical, skeptical, authority-disdaining ex-stripper she was at the close of Strip City. And by the time I got there with her, I understood why she married her Military Man. She made me see how their differences and their similarities matched up in just the right way, juiced by a certain inexplicable animal attraction. My only quibble is that the courtship and marriage went down a little too quickly. It seemed too easy. Maybe it was. But as a reader, I wasn't quite satisfied by how smoothly that all happened.
That being said, this is a classic American story, told from a fresh new perspective, shot through with brutal honesty, laced with black comedy, and fueled by a crazy search for true love. If anyone knows Charlize Theron, tell her to read this book, because it's an Oscar nomination waiting to happen.
In the end, after some very high highs, and some very low lows, Ms. Burana shows us how she has evolved into someone who can straddle that fine line between her new patriotic Army Wife self, and her tell-it-like-it-is Punk Protester Pole Dancer self. She's now shined her bright light on two billion-dollar industries that epitomize the good, the bad and the ugly of America: military and sex. Makes you wonder, what's next?
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