It’s never pleasant to read about humankind at our worst, as we clearly are when at war with one another. However, in the hands of a master storyteller like internationally renowned author Carsten Jensen, it can be edifying and can even offer some reaffirmation of our shared humanity.
The First Stone takes us into the heart of military action in contemporary Afghanistan with young Danish troops, pushed far beyond their limits into moral gray zones without the tools—emotional, moral, or intellectual—to make sense of their roles.
We identify with each of them—Hannah, the tough-as-nails young woman combating her own past as surely as any current enemy; Ove Steffensen, the commanding officer fatally ignorant of the local culture; and Sidekick, the young recruit who films the deaths of his compatriots, uploading footage constantly into the ether as a testimonial to the loss and grief he and his colleagues experience. At the heart of the narrative is the question, Who or what is an enemy, and how do we know?
Like other great novels set in combat, such as All Quiet on the Western Front and Heart of Darkness, this story is not an easy read, but it’s one that’s worth the effort. Long after reading the final words of The First Stone, I still feel its impact on me—and the appreciation of having been told some rich and illuminating truths by an unequaled storyteller.
— Elizabeth DeNoma, Editor