Posts Tagged Afghanistan
Disgraced by Gwen Florio. Midnight Ink | March 2016| 288 pages| ISBN: 9780738747668
Disgraced is the third Lola Wicks mystery [Montana, Dakota] by Gwen Florio. This time around, Lola’s off on a road trip to Yellowstone with her five-year-old daughter Maggie and stumbles upon quite the interesting story. Her co-worker and friend Jan asked her to drive her friend Pal home from the airport. Pal just returned from Afghanistan. At the airport, she witnesses a soldier’s suicide. No one wants to talk about it. What could possibly be the reason? Pal remains sullen, reserved and takes to heavy drinking. She just won’t discuss anything. While she just returned from war she’s still remarkably closed off. This young woman holds many secrets that will slowly be revealed.
Using her investigative journalism skills she digs into this immediately. It involves a group of friends from a local Native American reservation who just returned home from Afghanistan. Until she moved to Montana, Lola worked as a foreign correspondent. She’s familiar with Afghanistan. There’s not much about the suicide in the local paper although Lola notices some connected stories—another soldier killed while on duty. She notes to herself that in most places this many casualties and ruined lives would spark further questioning—“But this was the rural West, with its staunch and unquestioning patriotism.” Author Gwen Florio always excels with establishing sense of place. She writes: “In fact, she thought, throw in a few flat-roofed mud houses, some flocks of shaggy, fat-bottomed Arabi sheep, and bearded men in pajama-like shalwar qamiz toting AK-47s, and Wyoming would look just like Afghanistan—a fact not inclined to endear the state to her.” You can almost feel the sand in your teeth.
Florio writes from own experience as an international war correspondent and someone who relocated from an Eastern city to a less-inhabited state in the West. She knows the journalism business so when Lola pitches this story to an online publication, Florio writes: “She’d have blown her first and almost certainly her last chance to write for one of the few organizations that paid freelancers real money for serious pieces.” Ah, journalism. Such a fickle but necessary professional field. No one goes into it for the money. It’s about truth, providing information and highlighting the fascinating aspects of our culture.
“The war in Afghanistan wasn’t noted for big body counts. But other things were just as insidious. The constant twanging threat that each new footstep could be the one that tripped a mine, that each madly beeping Toyota pickup could be the one that bore a bomb, that each new face could be that of a potential friend—or killer. And the faces themselves, gaunt with hunger and desperation and resentment.”
Although Disgraced deals with serious subject matter, I chuckled at Lola in her new role as mother—“she never though of herself as anyone’s caretaker.” It was something I wasn’t sure I wanted to happen when I read the two earlier books. I appreciated Lola’s single-woman/ independent status. But the bribing her daughter and inability to answer certain questions and having this smarty pants five-year-old along for the ride provides needed levity. And Lola does as Lola wants, child or not. Lola Wicks is my favorite fictional feminist journalist. She remains unmarried to Charlie, her boyfriend and Maggie’s father. She’s brave, outspoken and extremely independent. That’s why this potential story involving soldiers returning from Afghanistan appeals to Lola.
I will always read this series. One day I will visit Gwen Florio and we will ride horses amid the beautiful landscape. Read my interview with Gwen here.
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Midnight Ink.
purchase at Amazon: Disgraced (A Lola Wicks Mystery)
purchase at Amazon: Montana
purchase at Amazon: Dakota
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana , by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. Publisher: Harper/Harper Collins (2011). Non-fiction. Hardcover, 288 pp.
She was hardly the only young woman in Kabul trying to fill her days. Across the capital, women of all ages and backgrounds were learning to make do in a city run by men who wanted them to disappear.
The plight of oppressed women throughout the world concerns me. Here in the United States women don’t have completely equal rights as men. Women aren’t represented in Congress. Women make less money than men. But it’s unfathomable to consider living in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia where women must wear full-length chadris or burkas that cover them completely when they go outside. They must travel with a male escort. Since the 80s, Afghanistan has been at war. First the Soviets invaded, then the Muhajadeen controlled the country, then the Taliban controlled Afghanistan until after 9/11 when the United States invaded Afghanistan and the Taliban regime retreated. When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, life became unbearable for women with all the arcane rules. The Taliban use a 14th Century interpretation of the Quran.
During these Taliban years, an entrepreneurial and brave woman named Kamila Sadiqi started a dressmaking business which helped her family as well as other women in her neighborhood. When the Taliban declared that women could no longer go to school, Kamila decided to find something else that would support her family. Author Gayle Tzemach Lemmon details the dresses—relatively austere but some with beading and several wedding dresses Kamila needed to learn to sew and then she would travel to the markets and acquire new customers. Once her business got larger, Kamila set up a school, with the help of her sisters. After a few years, a UN group approached Kamila to come teach at some pop-up school for women. She did despite the inherent danger involved. If she were caught by the Taliban her entire family would suffer.
And she wanted to spare her younger sisters and the students the reminder of what they already knew: the world outside their green gate remained full of danger. Poverty, food shortages, and the merciless drought had drained the life out of everyone in the city, including the Taliban’s own soldiers, who patrolled the barren capital in their shalwar kameez with little to protect them against the freezing winter.
While The Dressmaker of Khair Khana introduces the industrious and intelligent Kamila, I desired more conflict. I couldn’t get a feel for just HOW dangerous it was or what risks Kamila took. I wondered why women would buy new dresses under Taliban rule but I suppose they do and they did. How much did families and women make before the Taliban rule? How much did women bring in for their families after? Also what was the cost of living at that time? These are things that would make this story more comprehensive and understandable. Lemmon writes drily and factually and doesn’t include enough emotion.
Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman [Spiegel & Grau]
–at turns daunting, authentic, provocative and spellbinding. The best part is that it’s about women from all different backgrounds bonding to endure a miserable situation.
WAR by Sebastian Junger [Twelve]
–Junger brings much needed attention to this ongoing war on terrorism. So little is written about Afghanistan in the press yet it’s a fierce, exhaustive war. Junger also includes and honest assessment about the war in Afghanistan and the attitudes of the troops.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot [Crown]
It Could Be Worse, You Could Be Me by Ariel Leve [Harper Perennial]
–Leve is a major pessimist, sets low standards to avoid disappointment, would rather stay in bed than get dressed and made up to go to a party that *might* not be worth her time. She expresses in print what most of us think. She’s observant, sharply critical and savvy. Leve’s irreverent voice and bittersweet outlook mingle in an erudite, esoteric manner.
Half A Life by Darin Strauss [McSweeney’s]
–At 18, Strauss hit a girl while driving and she died. He examines his feelings related to the girl who died as well as the accident and its aftermath. Strauss writes honestly, exquisitely and provides a thorough examination of this profoundly personal experience. Half A Life is a provocative, intense read.
Bitch is the New Black by Helena Andrews [Harper]
–another stand-out memoir by a strong, opinionated, independent woman who has achieved monumental professional success but by society’s standards hasn’t yet hit her stride on the personal front.
FURY by Karen Zailckas [Viking Adult]
–After spending many years binge drinking and writing about it in the best-seller Smashed, Zailckas wanted to examine women’s relationship to anger. In doing so, she realized she had a lot of her own.
A Ticket to the Circusby Norris Church Mailer [Random House]
The Match by Susan Whitman Helfgot [Simon & Schuster]
–Reinforcing the importance of organ donation through the story of two men who never meet but whose lives intersect in a remarkable manner, The Match is a vastly informative and engulfing read.
CLEOPATRA by Stacy Schiff [Little, Brown]
Author: Sebastian Junger
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Twelve (May 11, 2010)
Category: current events
Review source: publisher
Once again, a couple of guys with rifles have managed to jam up an entire company’s worth of infantry. Ostlund and his staff get back on the Black Hawk with Captain Kearney, and they head across the valley for Firebase Vegas. I’m standing next to a tall Marine named Cannon who tells me that the war here is way more intense than most people understand. While we’re talking the shooting starts up again, a staccato hammering that I know recognize as the .50 out at Vegas.
Best known for The Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger wrote about the Boston Strangler in A Death in Belmont and being a reporter in such hot spots as Sierra Leone and the former Yugoslavia in Fire. In WAR, Junger travels through Afghanistan with young U.S. troops as an embedded journalist. WAR provides a violent, unflinching account of the war in Afghanistan down to the bloody details of death and the minutiae of war. Afghanistan is such a poor, vast, isolated country with plenty of places for the Taliban and Al Queda to hide. In writing this book, Junger brings much needed attention to this ongoing war on terrorism. So little is written about Afghanistan in the press yet it’s a fierce, exhaustive war. Junger also includes and honest assessment about the war in Afghanistan and the attitudes of the troops.
Stripped to its essence, combat is a series of quick decisions and rather precise actions carried out in concert with ten or twelve other men. In that sense it’s much more like football than, say, like soccer. The unit that choreographs their actions best usually wins. They might take causalities but they win.
WAR is set in three parts: FEAR, KILLING and LOVE. Junger adds extensive military history and facts throughout. When he explains fear he explains the body/mind connection and also the results of military tests [men have a greater reaction time than women]. Remaining objective as possible, Junger certainly faces numerous challenges. He often must base decisions on journalistic integrity vs. personal safety.
Soldiers use magical thinking and have varied superstitions. Most of the soldiers are in their early 20s, many with INFIDEL tattoos emblazoned on their bodies because “That’s what the enemy calls us on their radios.” War is the only thing many know at this point in their young lives. Re-entry into civilian life can often be much more complex than war for many. Having been used to the excitement and fast-paced action, suddenly many aren’t doing much of anything and want to go back. In stark conditions, stocked for months with supplies and no relief in sight, the American troops often fight an unseen enemy that hides and follows no order, no rules of engagement.
After 9/11 most people have a basic understanding of the modus operandi of terrorists. The Taliban fights dirty—snipers, sneak attacks in early morning or late night and chaos. They have numerous “counter-measures” to American attacks and are tricky to seek out and capture, mainly due to the terrain and the Taliban’s intimate knowledge of the land. Not that any war is a positive. It’s not. Junger states that the appeal of combat is not killing but protecting. WAR is an intense, gripping read.