From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Filkins, a New York Times
prize–winning reporter, is widely regarded as among the finest war correspondents of this generation. His richly textured book is based on his work in Afghanistan and Iraq since 1998. It begins with a Taliban-staged execution in Kabul. It ends with Filkins musing on the names in a WWI British cemetery in Baghdad. In between, the work is a vivid kaleidoscope of vig-nettes. Individually, the strength of each story is its immediacy; together they portray a theater of the absurd, in which Filkins, an extraordinarily brave man, moves as both participant and observer. Filkins does not editorialize—a welcome change from the punditry that shapes most writing from these war zones. This book also differs essentially from traditional war correspondence because of its universal empathy, feelings enhanced by Filkins's spare prose. Saudi women in Kabul airport, clad in burqas and stylish shoes, bemoan their husbands' devotion to jihad. An Iraqi casually says to his friend, Let's go kill some Americans. A marine is shot dead escorting Filkins on a photo opportunity. Iraqi soldiers are disconcerted when he appears in running shorts (They looked at [my legs] in horror, as if I were naked). Carl von Clausewitz said war is a chameleon. In vividly illustrating the varied ways people in Afghanistan and iraq have been affected by ongoing war, Filkins demonstrates that truth in prose. 5 photos. (Sept. 17)
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Filkins, foreign correspondent for the New York Times, has covered the struggle against Islamic extremism in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. He marshals his broad experience to present a wide-ranging view of this struggle, told through a series of intense, vivid, and startling vignettes. Embedded with marines during the struggle for Fallujah, Filkins describes an almost surreal scene of confusion and unvarnished violence. In Kabul, Filkins witnesses the amputation of a pickpocket’s hand, followed by the execution of an accused murderer under the Taliban regime. At a press briefing, a Taliban “minister of information” recites a litany of forbidden activities that is both absurd and terrifying. An interview with Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Lion of Panjshir, who bravely fought both the Soviets and the Taliban, is particularly poignant, since he would eventually be assassinated by al-Qaeda operatives. Filkins accompanies Americans searching a Sunni village for insurgents, where their insensitivity probably creates more enemies than they capture. A portrait of the difficulty, complexity, and savagery of a conflict that will be with us for some time. --Jay Freeman