Monday, September 19, 2011

War - Book Review

War by Sebastian Junger
From the author of The Perfect Storm, a gripping book about Sebastian Junger's almost fatal year with the 2nd battalion of the American Army.

For 15 months, Sebastian Junger accompanied a single platoon of thirty men from the celebrated 2nd battalion of the U.S. Army, as they fought their way through a remote valley in Eastern Afghanistan. Over the course of five trips, Junger was in more firefights than he could count, men he knew were killed or wounded, and he himself was almost killed. His relationship with these soldiers grew so close that they considered him part of the platoon, and he enjoyed an access and a candidness that few, if any, journalists ever attain.
But this is more than just a book about Afghanistan or the 'War on Terror'; it is a book about the universal truth of all men, in all wars. Junger set out to answer what he thought of as the 'hand grenade question': why would a man throw himself on a hand grenade to save other men he has probably known for only a few months? The answer is elusive but profound, and goes to the heart of what it means not just to be a soldier, but to be human.
‘War’ is a narrative about combat: the fear of dying, the trauma of killing and the love between platoon-mates who would rather die than let each other down. Gripping, honest, intense, it explores the neurological, psychological and social elements of combat, and the incredible bonds that form between these small groups of men.

War is a human story, a tale of humanity under extreme circumstance. Compelling and brutally objective, War is an account of existence at the sharpest end of contemporary warfare with Second Platoon, one of America's fiercest fighting forces, as they try to take the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan harshest, most vicious and inhospitable rebel-infested zone. The Valley broke the Russians during their attack on the region in the 80s, yet America is there, relying on Battle Squad to be their unstoppable force against what is proving to be a steadfast immovable (and deadly) enemy in the shape of the Taliban.

Sebastian Junger is also famous for his previous work with The Perfect Storm, the non-fiction work that inspired the film of the same name. Like the parents of the soldiers Junger is embedded with, the author was required to become apolitical in order to even begin to relate to what these soldiers (those parents' sons) have to do. Therefore, this book is not about whether the Americans should be there or not, it's about a sheer and brutal, almost surreal, kind of existence that is as near to organized insanity as mankind is ever likely to stray. An existence which the men are all too honest about when faced with the prospect of finishing their tour to return home to what many would consider normal life. Which can make for uncomfortable moments. But record with admirable objectivity Junger does, grinding out his days shoulder to shoulder with these soldiers as they endure close-quarter, gorilla-style warfare, where the human brain is far too slow to beat enemy bullets that hit faster than sound travels, and only instinct, good fortune, intense training and unwavering loyalty to each other keep men living from one hour to the next. The almost un-reality that these soldiers enter into is both frightening but also highly engaging, and all praise for Junger who refuses to glorify or labour events.

Beyond this most vibrant of subject matters, though, for me, Junger's main pull is his killer prose style; economic yet vivid, taut yet extremely colourful, it runs to such a brisk tempo that it sucks you in. There is something hugely enjoyable about the sheer lick of this work, trading superfluous subjection for pace when it counts most. In saying this, its fair to describe this book as more of a long-form journalistic piece that recognises lengths of concentration span, than a book; one that also works the same mechanics as the most compelling storytelling documentary movies of recent years, recognising that to engage you also need to make some concession to entertain.

Fans of The Wire or Operation Kill will warm to War as it also plunges the reader in jargon and slang conjuring a world unto itself and deepening the experience. Equally, if you enjoyed the documentary feel of The Hurt Locker, I'm prepared to bet you will simply devour Junger's War; and even if you're just a fan of taut prose, then this is for you. However, regardless of its subject matter, War is just a brilliant piece of writing that deserves to be a major hit amongst critics and readers alike. A good Solid four and a half stars for me on this one.

Available from:
War by Sebastian Junger
Softback • ISBN 9780007337712

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails