Friday, March 6, 2009

The Forever War - Dexter Filkins

The Forever War is a non-fiction account of the United States' invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, by New York Times war correspondent, Dexter Filkins. Filkins provides a first-hand account of his experience on the ground, with our solidiers, evading gun-fire and learning how to make the split-second decisions about who to kill and who to spare. This very much reminded me of the HBO mini-series "Generation Kill," about the Marine unit that led the first invasion of the Iraq war - followed by its own journalist: Filkins's writing is gripping and engaging, and the stories he tells are full of heartache and loss, but as he jumps from incident to episode, it is often difficult to obtain a true understanding of the people he is telling his stories about. I did appreciate what I perceived to be Filkins's attempt to tell the story of the conflict from a variety of viewpoints - he was not entirely critical of the United States government for invading in the first place, nor did he completely villify the Iraqi insurgents. I found particularly interesting his observations of war as a way of life in Iraq, and the consistent need for people to switch alliances at the drop of a hat in order to save their own lives. This idea was in stark contrast to the image of Iraqis as religious zealots who turn to suicide bombing because of the lack of value they place on human life. Filkins also had a brief chapter that provided a small window into the thoughts of women in Kabul shrouded in their burkas, lamenting that they could be shopping in Paris if it weren't for their husbands' belief that fighting brings them closer to God. I would have loved to hear more from these women who are stuck in the middle of a devastating reality, but given no voice to oppose it. I appreciated this book because I did not feel as if it was bogged down in the politics of the war - though it did an excellent job of explaining why people were stuck in situations as a result of politics. At times it was too far sweeping and moved on too quickly from vignette to vignette - though in part this did give the feel of the ephemeral nature of things during war times. I do not usually tend to like historical non-fiction, anything political, or books about war. For these reasons, I was pleasantly surprised to find The Forever War immediately engaging, depsite the obvious sadness of its subject matter.

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