It seems like Afghanistan is a bottomless pit of war and violence. It has been that way “forever”. The locals have fought and killed each other in tribal disputes for centuries. In the 19th century they fought the British to a standstill in the wars of the North West Frontier. In the 20th they defeated the Russians before renewing their own inter tribal conflicts. Following the expulsion of the Russians the Taliban rose to the top of heap and ruled with a religious ferocity. Following the terrorist attack on the “Twin Towers” in New York the country caught the interest of the USA and were perceived to be a haven for Islamic terrorists. Rightly or wrongly, in the American world view they needed to be eradicated. To that end the US embarked on a military adventure to win “the war on terror”. By invading the country there was a hope of pacifying the country and ushering in an era of democratic peace. Under US patronage and with the help of an international military force the occupation has lasted eighteen years. Think about it! Eighteen years. During that time attempts have been made to introduce democracy into the country and protect the rights women and, despite the best of intentions, that seems to have failed. Like the British and the Russians before them the US is now preparing to leave. The golden rule of any occupation is that the occupiers eventually have to go home. The other part of the golden rule is that all insurgents know this. They just have to keep up the pressure and wait until the time is right for the occupying force to come up with some face saving pretext to leave the country honorably. The only occupying force to achieve a measure of success against insurgents has been the British in Malaya in their fight against the communists in the 1950s.
Like any war there have been a multitude of novels, war stories and pages and pages of political analysis. In most publications the context has been one with an American perspective. The Americans were perceived as the only allied heroes, and villains, fighting the Taliban. This is despite the fact that the allied partners from many counties have participated in the “war on terror” and suffered significant casualties. One of the partners in the “adventure” is Denmark. Danish, Canadian, German, French etc soldiers have fought and died in Afghanistan and their stories need to be told. One of the partners in the “adventure” is Denmark and this is an Afghan story with a Danish perspective.
Carsten Jensen is a leading literary figure in his native Denmark. He is the author of the international bestseller We, the Drowned, which has sold more than half a million copies in twenty languages. As well as being an acclaimed novelist, essayist, newspaper columnist, and political commentator, Jensen has reported from war zones in the Balkans and Afghanistan. He has been awarded many prizes for fiction and nonfiction, including Denmark’s coveted Golden Laurel for the travelogue I Have Seen the World Begin, and Sweden’s prestigious Olof Palme Prize for his “work, in words and deed, to defend the weak and vulnerable in his own country as well as around the world.”
From a recent book review …… “This is an amazing trip into the Afghani culture and countryside and explains a little bit of why the wars over the last 40 years have come to naught in this country. Living the story through the eyes of the Danish soldiers provides a very unique point of view. The story starts in a very different place from where it ends. The soldiers gradually learn about a culture and people whose roots go back thousands of years in a country where change is not relished. Things start slowly as their daily expeditions into the countryside which is always followed by the return to the safety of their fort. Their commander believes that his political skills, honed in his Danish community, will work just as effectively here. He soon learns how wrong he is. Soon their Fort is no longer a safe place and one of their own is not what he appears. Their journey goes down the rabbit hole and into places, both physically and mentally, that are as alien as any fictional planet……. The mindset of warriors, the Taliban, The children, the women and the men who have spent their lives living in a war zone is presented in a relentless fashion. The horrors of war never stop shocking the reader whether imposed by a drone, a fighter jet, a mother or a medieval weapon. This is not a book for the faint of heart. However if you make it to the end you will be rewarded by a story you will not soon forget”.
I agree with the reviewer’s summation that this of the best Afghan novels he has come across. I highly recommend it.