Friday, November 27, 2009

A Journal For Jordan-- Review, Author Interview

A Journal for Jordan
A Story of Love and Honor
Random House
Written by
Dana Canedy
Available in Hardcover and Paperback

In 2005, First Sergeant Charles Monroe King began to write what would become a two-hundred-page journal for his son in case he did not make it home from the war in Iraq. Charles King, forty-eight, was killed on October 14, 2006, when an improvised explosive device detonated under his Humvee on an isolated road near Baghdad. His son, Jordan, was seven months old.

A Journal for Jordan is a mother’s letter to her son–fierce in its honesty–about the father he lost before he could even speak. It is also a father’s advice and prayers for the son he will never know.

  • He finished the journal two months before his death while home on a two-week leave, so intoxicated with love for his infant son that he barely slept.

Finally, this is the story of Dana and Charles together–two seemingly mismatched souls who loved each other deeply. She was a Pulitzer Prize—winning editor for the New York Times who struggled with her weight. He was a decorated military officer with a sculpted body who got his news from television. She was impatient, brash, and cynical about love. He was excruciatingly shy and stubborn, and put his military service before anything else. In these pages, we relive with Dana the slow unfolding of their love, their decision to become a family, the chilling news that Charles has been deployed to Iraq, and the birth of their son.

  • In perhaps the most wrenching chapter in the book, Dana recounts her search for answers about Charles’s death. Unsatisfied with the army’s official version of what happened and determined to uncover the truth, she pored over summaries of battalion operations reports and drew on her well-honed reporting skills to interview the men who were with Charles on his last convoy, his commanding officers, and other key individuals. In the end, she arrived at an account of Charles’s death–and his last days in his battalion–that was more difficult to face than the story she had been told, but that affirmed the decency and courage of this warrior and father.

    A Journal for Jordan is a tender introduction, a loving good-bye, a reporter’s inquiry into her soldier’s life, and a heartrending reminder of the human cost of war.

"Full of wonderful treasures offered by a unique and spirited father...It is written with seren grace: part memoir, part love story, all heart."James McBride, author of THE COLOR OF WATER

My Thoughts:

What impresses me about this book is the candor of the author, about herself and her man. Her determination to create a clear picture of the man she loved, and their relationship, so her son would have a way to know him. When we lose someone so early, and in such a way, it’s all too easy to tag him as a hero, and sanitize his life. Make him larger than life; even posthumously award him sainthood, in our hearts and minds. Dana does not.

What emerges from these pages captures the essence of Charles King. He is not just a soldier or the man she loved. He was multifaceted and more complex. Charles was stubborn, had procrastination down to an art, a need for things to be done just so. I see a man who could brood and worry. I meet an imposing man with a strong sense of duty and honor, which came above all else in his life. I can see his shyness, his loving heart, and sense of humor, his dedication to doing what was right, regardless of what others thought of those decisions. The strong faith in God that guided him in his life. The deep love he had for his family.

Through Dana’s eyes I met the sexy, sensual man, her lover. I met the warrior, tough and strong, highly decorated, intensely loyal and deeply caring for the men placed in his care. I saw this fierce warrior, sculpted in body and incredibly strong hold his tiny child with such tenderness and love. He was a man who took his role as a father seriously, providing for his children. He took the time during the lonely nights in Iraq to give guidance and direction for his son through a journal while hoping it would never be necessary for his son to see it—because he wanted to be there in person to guide him and watch him grow.

Charles was so real to me, even knowing he died, my heart hurt for Dana when I read the part where she was told. Tears came to my eyes more than once during this book, but so did laughter. Only a good writer can take someone totally unknown to you and paint such a clear picture of him or her it touches your heart.

Grief is a funny thing. I’ve lost people very dear to me both family and friends everyone grieves differently. I have to make sense of it to heal to get past the anguish. Dana did the same. But what made an impact on me was the generosity of Dana Canedy. She shared the man she loved with us and with her son. She’s reached out to others who have suffered and are still suffering.

I loved the book. It’s well written and easy to read. Journal has it sad parts, true, but really it’s the story of family.

  • And the joy of love.

* * *
I was curious, after I read the book. I had the chance to talk with Dana and ask her some questions.

Dana, tell us a little bit about you. I know you work for the New York Times as an editor. What’s your typical day like? What kind of stories do you pursue?

  • Well, I don’t really have a typical day. I usually wake up – excruciatingly early -- to Jordan asking me his daily morning questions, such as; how do planes fly or what do butterflies eat or why is ice cream cold. Once I get him off to pre-school and head to the Times, I might be involved in an employee’s career development, sitting in on story planning meetings or meeting with senior management to discuss issues related to anything from the operation of our Baghdad bureau to how we are covering the Obama administration.

What made you decide on making Charles’ journal a book for all, not just something strictly for Jordan?

  • I was so proud of what Charles wrote in the journal that I wanted to honor him by making it public so that the world would know what an extraordinary man he was. Also, I wanted Jordan to have a full picture of his father some day. I was also aware that many people have never known a military family that has lost a soldier, and so I thought that our story would personalize the war for readers. Then too, I simply needed something to do with my grief.
I know you do motivational speaking to servicemen and their families. How has this journal (and speaking) helped you in your healing process and what does it give others dealing with the same thing?

  • One of the things I discovered after Charles died is that even in tragedy there are blessings. Getting to know so many amazing military families, who are living through the same grief that we are, has been one of the blessings for me. If something I have written or said helps someone else cope with their loss, then I am tremendously honored by that. Many military families have actually thanked me for giving them a voice by sharing the story of losing my solider.
Any stories you’d like to share?

  • I will never forget one woman sobbing in my arms at an event, saying she wanted her baby back. He was 19 and died just a year out of high school. I saw her the next day and she said that she had started reading my book and that it was helping her to cope with her loss. All I can say to that is, “Thank You, God!”
The thing that impressed me about the book was your candor. There’s love behind the words but you didn’t try to make Charles into a saint. It seemed to me you were trying to capture the essence of the total man he was—the good, bad, and ugly. Grief has a way of idealizing the one we lost. What did you do to keep perspective?

  • I think the fact that I am a journalist helped me to keep perspective. This is my life I was writing about, but it is also a “story” and in that regard I tried to apply the same standards of honesty and fairness that I do to writing news stories. In short, my professional training and ethics guided me. I was also mindful that the ultimate reader would someday be my son – so the book had to be authentic and real.

Tell us a bit about Jordan. I’ve seen pictures. He seems to have a sunny smile that melts your heart.

  • Oh my goodness!!!! He is my Angel. That little boy has me wrapped around his finger, and he knows it. But he is an easy child, well mannered and kind and precocious but also playful and mischievous. Just the other day, he said “Mommy, you have such a beautiful heart.” I could not believe it. Charles used to say that I would see both of us in him, and I truly do. Sometimes he looks just like his dad, other times I see me in him. He is sensitive and a gentleman, just like his dad was, but he is outgoing and had a good sense of humor, like me.

Is there anything he does that makes you say, ‘oh my God, you’re just like your daddy’?

  • Jordan walks like his dad, but is more his spirit that reminds me of Charles. He is a natural caretaker, which Charles also was to a fault. Jordan’s teachers in pre-school tell me he takes care of everyone in class, and he does that with me at home too. He will ask if I’m tired, or if I want a bite of his food or if I need a hug. One time, we were on our way to the airport and I was lugging a bag down the hall and Jordan grabbed it and wanted to do it himself. I asked if he needed help and he said, “no Mommy, it’s heavy.” Mind you, he is only 3.
How has he handled all the publicity around this journal?

  • He has taken it pretty well. I was worried that I was exposing him to too much. Then one evening as we were settling into bed in a hotel after I had given a speech, he said, “Mommy, you talked really good to the people.” I couldn’t believe it. He is always surprising me with the way he thinks and feels.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
  • Honestly, the hardest part was doing the research about how Charles died and reconstructing his final day. I literally vomited.
After reading the account, I can understand why.

What was your favorite part?

  • I loved recalling and writing about the two weeks Jordan and Charles had together. I will always treasure that time, and I hope readers will treasure that part of the book.

Any future plans for another book?

  • Yes, I may do a sequel because so many people have asked me to. I also may write a children’s version. This book has changed my life in ways I never expected, and it has made me feel like I definitely have more to say.
Thank you, Dana, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to visit with us today and share a bit about your family and your book.
  • Thank you for honoring me by allowing me to be a part of your blog. I am humbled and grateful.


DANA CANEDY is a senior editor at the New York Times, where she has been a journalist for twelve years. In 2001, she was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting for "How Race Is Lived in America," a series on race relations in the United States.

Denzel Washington will produce and possibly star in a film “Journal for Jordan,” based on the journal. Escape Artists at Columbia Pictures acquired the film rights.

Raised near Fort Knox, she lives in New York City with her son, Jordan.

(Pictures Courtesy Dana Canedy, Book Blurb courtesy of Random House)


~Sia McKye~ said...

Dana, welcome to Over Coffee. I'm so glad to have you visit with us.

I have a virtual Coffee Bar set up (No Calories) with some wonderful coffee, tea, scones, bagels, and a selection of cookies. Indulge.

You wrote a powerful love story in this book. I loved it. And boy do I understand the grieving process. Anguish, anger, the hole left in the fabric of our life.

Kat Sheridan said...

Dana, what a powerful and moving story you have to tell. I'm sending you hugs and blessings for all you and Jordan have gone through, and for your generosity in reaching out to others dealing with such an impossible loss. I wish you every success with this book.

And Sia, wonderful review.

Ken Coffman said...

I like to pretend I'm cynical and tough, but I'm touched by this story of heroism and love. I might have to revisit my disrespect of the New York Times as it appears at least one genuine, real, clear-headed person works there. Well done Sia and Dana and what great timing: thanks for giving us great, inspiring reading for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Kelley Fulford said...

Excellent review, thank you for sharing this heartfelt story and how it came about!

Conda Douglas said...

Wow. This story touched my heart and spirit on so many levels. I hope this excellent book is read by many, many people.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Dana, how wonderful you could find the strength to share your tragedy with others. And that is wonderful a movie will be made!

Helen Ginger said...

What a great post today, Sia. You covered it from all angles - the book, your thoughts, and the author. Plus, left us with the teaser that it'll be a movie. Sounds like a great book, but I seriously doubt I'd get through it without crying.

Straight From Hel

Anna Campbell said...

Dana, I'm so sorry for your loss. And I'm in awe of your courage to be able to put your tragedy into artistic form. Sia, thank you for having Dana here today.

~Sia McKye~ said...

There are places, Helen, it brings tears to your eyes, but over all, it's such a positive book.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Conda, it's well worth reading.

Dana made me laugh in so many places with her reactions to things, like her first meeting with Charles. You get a clear picture of Dana, her love, her professionalism, her pride in family and her job. She does have a great sense of humor. Some of her reactions to being a first time mother. Oh man, I remember those days. There's a funny spot in there about setting off the hospital alarms with milk. I giggled.

Netti said...

Sounds like a fantastic book... my husband is also military and has done his time in Iraq and at home in NYC during 9/11. As well as many other places the military has taken him. I am so sorry for your loss Dana, my heart goes out to you & Jordan. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

Sending you & Jordan love & support from one military family to another. xoxo

Terry said...

What an amazing story. I'm putting that on my wish list for Christmas this year! Thank you, Dana, for sharing your story with us and bless you.


~Sia McKye~ said...

Netti, Thanks for stopping by. I hear you on our men being sent where ever they're needed. Dan is no longer in the service, but he was for many years and he went into some scary stuff. Months not knowing WHERE he was, I assumed alive because I didn't hear otherwise. Letters written home (when we could get them) with black markings through them to 'protect' their location. It's scary being a military family in perilous times.

This is partly what drew me to Dana's book. I could relate to the uncertainty and the fear.

Other Lisa said...

This sounds like a wonderful book and one I would very much like to read. Thank you, Dana, for writing it, and thank you, Sia, for the great interview and bringing the book to my attention.

aries18 said...

Dana, I haven't read your book but I now plan to do so. It sounds like an important book. I admire your bravery in sharing this story with the world. Thank you.

Sia, I know I always say you bring us the best and brightest but I can't help it. You do! Thank you for this blog. It's a new and wonderful window on the world of books for me and so many others.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Wanda, I do try. I have to admire someone who can work through their personal grief and yet despite the grief, reach out to others. I know grief in losing someone so dear to me has made me much more aware of other's pain.

Lisa, I think you would enjoy it.

Houston A.W. Knight said...

OMG, what a wonderful interview! This is a book I will buy...within those pages is a TRUE ROMANCE, a true story of the heart...TRUE LOVE and how blessed she was to have found it.

I wish Dana the best in her life and thank her for touching my soul with her story. Sia, I can't thank you enough for inviting me here today...this was the best interview ever!


Lorelei Confer said...

What an amazing story. Your spirit truly touched my heart. Can't wait to see the children's version in print.

C.L. Wilson said...

What a wonderful interview and what an incredible testament to the greatest gift of all - love.

Liana Laverentz said...

I'm so glad you feel you have more to day and will continue writing. Stories like yours need to be told, and what a gift you have in being able to share it. Blessings,

Sharron Riddle said...

What a touching story. Thank you for sharing this tribute to real love.

Vicki said...

What an amazing story of true love. Thank you so much for sharing this interview. I'm adding it on my list for Christmas presents (for me and others).

JV said...

The book sounds like a wonderful tribute to Charles and a wonderful gift to Jordan, a way of allowing him to get to know his father through his father's own words (in his journal) and actions as described in Dana's book.

Houston A.W. Knight said...


Just thought you'd like to know Author Holly Jacobs will be putting up a notice on her blog about this story ... a Journal for Jordan. I told her about it and she offered to do this in hopes it'll help Dana and her book for'll be going up next week and there is a link on my site to Holly if either of you want to go see it there. I did this a few days ago as well, if Dana wants to come see....I'd more than welcome her.

It's a story that touched many of us and we want to share it with the world.


Unknown said...

First, I cannot thank Sia enough for her amazing review of my book. You know, when you write something so personal it is like opening a vein and bleeding on the page. I did not know how people would respond to the book; I just knew that I had to write it. I am just so humbled and grateful for the overwhelming response.
That brings me to all of the wonderful people who have left such amazing comments on Sia's blog. You all have touched me deeply, and I cannot wait to someday share your words with Jordan. Thank you so very much for your kindness, and know that each of you is now a part of my healing!
God Bless you and your families this holiday season, and always.
With warmest regards,