They Dragged Them Through the Streets a novel
“Does a nation care for what it does? Usually, it doesn’t. But we need to be reminded of our reality largely filled with wars. And we wait. And this novel does it. I read it as if in one breath, grateful on behalf of the millions who could identify with it. It took a woman with a conscience who’s also a ‘woman of words’ such as Hilary Plum to create a bunch of people scarred by the war (in Iraq), to speak on behalf of the living and of the dead, as Literature must. She does more than combat silence, she conveys the sense that each of us is history (even if a history of lies), that we are American history. And her novel makes it clear that the great American silence is at the root of the great American melancholy.” Etel Adnan
“In the cool and graceful prose of They Dragged Them Through the Streets, Hilary Plum traces the fault lines of paradox and contradiction her cast of young activists are riven by as they attempt to make sense of and respond to the official violence of the era. This courageous novel addresses the anxieties of our age.” Stanley Crawford
“Hilary Plum’s debut novel delves into our private and public sorrows with wrenching grace. This is a book of enormous compassion, meticulous beauty. Plum grapples with the devastation of war and environmental degradation, with suicide and madness, the tenacity and delicacy of friendship. The novel offers no easy redemption—her people blunder around in the dark. They are impulsive, admirable, failing, often paralyzed. And yet they love, Plum insists, and they prevail.” Noy Holland
A veteran of the US war in Iraq commits suicide, and his brother joins with four friends in search of ways to protest the war. Together they undertake a series of small-scale bombings, until an explosion claims the life of a member of their circle. This novel serves as an elegy to these two deaths—the veteran and the activist—and so mourns the war in Iraq itself. They Dragged Them Through the Streets gives form to the anger and troubled idealism of the American home front’s experience of today’s wars. This is an innovative work in the great tradition of war literature and a singular chronicle of one generation’s conflicts.
Read excerpts in Berfrois and at the Sultan’s Seal.
Published by FC2 / the University of Alabama Press, 2013. Purchase here.
Interviewed in Full Stop by Andy Stallings
Interviewed at the Kenyon Review blog by Dan Torday: “Fiction that Occurs Word by Word”
Interviewed in Route 9 by Jenn Mar: “The Unamerican War Story”
Interviewed at the Pleiades blog by Luke McKiddy
“[I]n all the popular and literary arts, it is almost unheard-of to see a thoughtful, rounded representation of a self-described progressive political activist, someone who devotes their labor to societal change. ... Hilary Plum’s They Dragged Them Through The Streets is a revelation. Avoiding both caricature and heroizing, Plum creates an intimate and ruminative portrait of five friends whose activism against the Iraq War, spurred by the suicide of one of the friends’ brother, turns to acts of violent sabotage. ... What we owe each other is the question of the book, and indeed, the question of all ethical relation.”
— Philip Metres, “Behind the Lines.”
“The story moves — not forward, but into itself, as the narrators struggle to understand the war and their place in it. Plum powerfully evokes the ghosts of the dead. ... This elegant portrayal of war’s chaos invites reflection on the possibility of communication. ... Even as [the characters] join together in love — or in grief or in protest — they are isolated, afraid. This tragedy pulses at the center of the novel’s anguish: that we are marooned in our own selves, yet always striving beyond.”
— Nathan Goldman, Full Stop.
“Hilary Plum’s debut novel, They Dragged Them Through the Streets, knows all too well how catastrophic realities are built word by word .... [Plum] has not written a typical war novel. ...
I have left far too much out of this review—the beautiful way in which the relationship between U.S. and Iraqi citizens is handled; how striking and precise are the novel’s images; how subtle and telling are the modulations in voice between the narrators; the psychology behind every narrator refusing to call Iraq by name, only referring to it as ‘that country’; quietness and how it differs from silence; how I’d be willing to bet after reading They Dragged Them Through the Streets that Hilary Plum pronounces Iraq correctly, as we Arabs do. But at just under 200 pages, the book speaks for itself.”
— Khaled Khlifi, Route 9.
“A disturbing and brilliant novel”
— Simone Zelitch
“I used to think all we ever had to hold ourselves to was beautiful lines, beautiful sentences—each part worthy of some independent worship. That’s how I would read Woolf and Lolita. Recently, Hilary Plum’s recent novel, They Dragged Them Through the Streets, has done for me that and one thing more. After too many years of stupid pride in fostering intellect and political remove, the book walked me, in its way, to an understanding of what the writer can be as anti-war activist, as anti-capitalist (though let me elsewhere someday talk straighter to the praises her book rightly deserves). They Dragged Them Through the Streets, in the way the best literature does, re-enlivened for me my years of reading some favorites: Oppen, Niedecker, Zukofsky. I wish I could explain it better. The book put something meaningful in me where there was already much, as well as where there was nothing. Writers can do this.”
— David Bartone, in an interview
“... I salute Plum for exploring the conditions that might radicalize a dissatisfied citizenry to the point of violence. They Dragged Them Through the Streets resembles greatly Doris Lessing’s The Good Terrorist, a 1985 novel that portrays a similar assortment of privileged white bomb-makers struggling to reconcile murder in the name of politics with middle-class upbringings. As it happens, I read The Good Terrorist in my plywood bunk on FOB Lightning, Paktya province, Afghanistan, in what passed for my downtime during deployment. Grabbed at random from the book exchange in the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Center, The Good Terrorist induced reveries that had me comparing the political docility—that is to say the civility—of the white West with the rage of our Afghan enemies, who rained rockets and mortars upon our camp and sprinkled the roads we traveled with IEDs. The comparison made me think that Lessing might have rendered her bourgeois revolutionaries in shades more comic or accusatory than respectful. The same charge could be levied against Plum, but that would be wrong. As her character Vivienne’s words remind us, imaginatively portraying a world that didn’t happen helps us understand better the one that did.”
— Peter Molin, Time Now
“[P]erhaps the type of book that David Shields called for in his 2010 call-to-arms Reality Hunger: A Manifesto ... The meditations on dealing with the loss of friends are both visceral and haunting, a paean to what we all live with in a country supported by such a vast and far-reaching military-complex. ... [A] critique and an elegy on the problems facing a contemporary post-war America. ... They Dragged Them Through the Streets is an impressive and ambitious debut.”
— Christopher Linforth, Fjords Review