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Deserter's Tale /hc

The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq

by (author) Joshua Key

as told by Lawrence Hill

House of Anansi Press Inc
Initial publish date
Feb 2007
General, 21st Century
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2007
    List Price

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Out of print

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Joshua Key's critically acclaimed memoir, The Deserter's Tale, is the first account from a soldier who deserted from the war in Iraq, and a vivid and damning indictment of how the war is being waged.

In spring 2003, young Oklahoman Joshua Key was sent to Ramadi as part of a combat engineer company with the U.S. military. The war he found himself participating in was not the campaign against terrorists and "evildoers" he had expected. Key saw Iraqi civilians beaten, shot, and killed for little or no provocation. After six months in Iraq, Key was home on leave and knew he could not return. So he took his family and went underground in the United States, finally seeking asylum in Canada.

In clear-eyed, compelling prose crafted with the help of award-winning Canadian novelist and journalist Lawrence Hill, The Deserter's Tale tells the story of a man who went into the war believing unquestioningly in his government and who was transformed into a person who ethically, morally, and physically could no longer serve his country.

About the authors

Joshua Key was raised in Guthrie, Oklahoma, and now lives in Canada. The Deserter's Tale is his first book.

Joshua Key's profile page

LAWRENCE HILL is a professor of creative writing at the University of Guelph. He is the author of ten books, including The Illegal; The Book Of Negroes; Any Known Blood; and Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada. He is the winner of various awards, including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize, and is a two-time winner of CBC Radio’s Canada Reads. Hill delivered the North America-wide 2013 Massey Lectures, based on his non-fiction book Blood: The Stuff of Life. He co-wrote the adaptation for the six-part television miniseries The Book of Negroes, which attracted millions of viewers and won eleven Canadian Screen Awards. The recipient of nine honorary doctorates from Canadian universities, Hill served as chair of the jury of the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize. He is a volunteer with Book Clubs for Inmates and the Black Loyalist Heritage Society, and is an honorary patron of Crossroads International, for which he has volunteered for more than thirty-five years and with which he has travelled to Niger, Cameroon, Mali, and Swaziland. A 2018 Berton House resident in Dawson City, he is working on a new novel about the African-American soldiers who helped build the Alaska Highway in northern B.C. and Yukon in 1942–43. He is a Member of the Order of Canada, has been inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame, and in 2019 was named a Canada Library and Archives Scholar. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario, and in Woody Point, Newfoundland.

Lawrence Hill's profile page


  • Winner, Hamilton Literary Award for Non-Fiction
  • Commended, Quill & Quire Books of the Year

Editorial Reviews

Timely, important, and haunting.


...Key presents an uncomplicated telling of his personal experience of the war - the details are raw and gut-wrenching.

Penticton Western News

...a close-up view not only of those soldiers who felt compelled by their own consciences to desert, but of the war itself, in all its violent, tragic insanity. For this view alone, Key's book is an essential read.

Quill & Quire

...a fascinating saga, one in which the American armed forces are made up of poorly trained, out-of-control boobs with no restraint, moral, ethical or otherwise.

Winnipeg Free Press

...Key's narration is disarmingly flat and straightforward...

Toronto Star

The writing is fluid, crisp and compelling. The story is shocking. Key provides an unvarnished and gut-wrenching account of his company's 'war on terrorism'...With unflinching frankness, Key recounts a series of horrific events that cause him to question his mission and force him to do the unthinkable - betray his buddies and his country.

Montreal Gazette

...the narrative of The Deserter's Tale has the strong backbone of an archetypal hero myth....potent.

See Magazine

...a story worth telling: how a good man became lost in an immoral system, and in the process lost his livelihood, his nation, and part of himself.

Quill & Quire

What's most engaging about this book is its essential honesty...stark and compelling....The Deserter's Tale ought to be required reading for soldiers heading overseas, to prepare them for the stresses and dilemmas they are likely to face.

Globe and Mail unvarnished and gut-wrenching account...

Montreal Gazette

...destined to become part of the literature of the Iraq war....from the book's opening pages, Key's clear voice rings out, explaining why he deserted the Army after seven months in Iraq, with anguish and frankness that invests the book with quiet elegance...

LA Times

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