The basis for Lifetime's hottest new show, Army Wives

Jul 12, 2007 (Updated Feb 5, 2008)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Interesting book about murders/suicides at Fort Bragg in 2002.

Cons:Some might expect this book to be more like the new Lifetime TV show.

The Bottom Line: This book was an unexpected goldmine...

Those of you who regularly read my reviews may know that I am a real life Army wife. And as a real life Army wife, I didn't have high expectations when I saw that the Lifetime cable network had developed a new series called Army Wives. It's been my experience that Hollywood generally puts a spin on its interpretation of military life that isn't always accurate. Nevertheless, I was curious, so I tuned in and actually liked what I saw. I mean, the show is not entirely realistic and it does have a certain soap opera quality, but it's entertaining and somewhat based in reality. And then I heard that the show was actually based on Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives (2006) a book by Tanya Biank, a real life Army wife whose husband currently works in the Pentagon.

My copy of Biank's book is the retitled paperback edition, Army Wives: The Unwritten Code of Military Marriage. The new title is, I'm sure, a means of getting people who have watched the new Lifetime series to read Biank's book. However, those who do read this book should be aware that it's not a book version of the TV show. Biank's book is about four ordinary Army wives who found themselves in extraordinary situations that changed their lives. And yes, it's true that these women are the basis on which many of the characters of the TV show are based. For example, Biank writes of a woman who served as a surrogate mother of twins as a means of raising money for her family. Likewise, there's a character on the TV show who was a surrogate mother as well. The difference is, in Biank's book, the surrogacy is not the defining detail of the woman's story like it is on the television show. In fact, most of the storylines on the TV show are just aspects of lives of the the real life women Biank wrote about in her book. Biank's book is not really about a bunch of officers' and enlisted wives who become friends on an Army post, anyway.

Back in the summer of 2002, Tanya Biank was a reporter working for the Fayettville Observer in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Fayetteville is where Fort Bragg, the Army's premier training institution for elite forces, is located. Delta Force, the Green Berets, and paratroopers all get their training in Fayetteville, a town that has a mixed reputation of being both genteel and crime infested. Over the course of six weeks during the summer of 2002, Fort Bragg found itself reeling in shock when four Bragg based soldiers killed their wives; two of the soldier subsequently committed suicide; a third committed suicide in jail, and an officer's wife was charged with murdering her husband. Naturally, this was news and Biank, being a military reporter, was in the thick of it. Ultimately, Biank's book is about the murders and suicides, as well as an officer's wife who became widowed when her husband went on a mission to Vietnam to look for missing soldiers from the Vietnam era.

I found Biank's book very interesting. Her writing is engaging and compassionate, and the people she profiles in this book are certainly interesting subjects. I do want to warn people who might be tempted to buy this book that they may not get what they're expecting. I could definitely see which people in the book inspired the characters from the television show, but although I found the real life stories just as interesting as the fictionalized stories on Lifetime, I think trying to compare the two entities is like comparing apples to oranges. To me, this book seems to be less about what it means to be a Army wife and more about the shocking events at Fort Bragg during the summer of 2002.

Army Wives: The Unwritten Code of Military Marriage is, in my opinion, a very readable and interesting book that sheds some light on what it's like to be married to the military. But to me, that aspect of the book is not the primary focus. Instead, Biank's book is about people whose lives were irrevocably changed by unnatural death. Readers should not expect stories about women bonding over wine or teaching each other how to kickbox as is depicted on the TV show. But those who do watch the show can expect to gain some insight into the show's characters by reading this book. Those who don't watch the show can just expect to be fascinated by a bizarre set of circumstances related to military life.

Tanya Biank's Web site:

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