A Darkling Plain: Stories of Conflict and Humanity during War, Kristen Renwick Monroe

Reviewed by Andrew Pilecki



This book explores what it means to be “human” in decidedly inhuman contexts. It poses a simple question demanding a complex and nuanced answer: “What helps people maintain their humanity during wars, genocides, revolutions, and other traumatic political conflicts?” (p. 4). Author Kristen Renwick Monroe and her colleagues draw on a rich corpus of data comprising 18 interviews from former combatants, survivors, and witnesses to such events. Balancing the need to analyze the transcripts from a theoretically informed manner while preserving the voice of the interviewees, the authors employ both inductive and deductive methods to analyze and interpret the data. Analysis reveals six psychological dimensions that influence coping with trauma: belonging to a larger group, the ability to establish continuity with the self, fatalism, cognitive stretching, conceiving happiness, and patterns of assigning guilt and blame.

The main strength of A Darkling Plain is its use of narrative as a means of addressing the research question posed by the authors. The breadth and scope of the transcripts provide the reader with an intimate look into the experiences of the interviewees and how they coped with—and continue to cope with—the traumatic events they encountered. The interview with Tuan, a former South Vietnamese soldier, is especial

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