Chicken House, August 2013
War changes things. That which was clear-cut, becomes blurred. Good or bad; easily distinguished in theory, mesh and blend together during battle. The single-minded, grim determination to conquer the enemy can be difficult to maintain when the antagonist is but a small boy. When the terrorists are children, barely into their teens, shooting hate-filled daggers from wary eyes; combat training doesn’t take over. Facing the haunted eyes of the beautiful girl in blue, as she quietly, almost hopefully, watches for the reaction scrambles the mind, challenging known information. Suddenly and without warning, all of the categorical reasons for being here fade and fizzle away.
Newly trained medic, Private Elinor Nielson, is justifiably anxious, and already questioning her decisions the first morning on base in Afghanistan. Before the rest of the world has had a chance to hit the snooze button, Elinor has unwittingly showered in clear view of fellow soldiers and exchanged unfriendly words with her icy, inexplicably angry, bunkmate. One may think that her first day on patrol can’t get worse; but this is war, and situations and circumstances deteriorate quickly.
If you were to pluck this book from a shelf, the blurb on the cover may have you believing that you are about to delve into love, challenged by the vast differences of one soul inhibiting the body of an English medic, the other an American soldier.
To me, this is an inaccurate representation that grossly over-simplifies the story. Please, don’t misunderstand. Sure, there is attraction and affection; but it is secondary and if excluded, Mr. Massey would still be giving us a compelling, engrossing and thought-provoking narrative.
In fairness, having boldly declared what the novel is not, I should articulate what it is: a remarkable, very real, gripping representation of being a soldier. Internal struggles that don’t make the news, but consume a soldier like nothing else could. A mind, once sure, becomes plagued with doubt. Who is the actual aggressor and who is simply fighting to defend what is left of war-riddled families and shrapnel-torn homes? Could an entire war erupt because of a personal vendetta? How can it be that a few can influence a country?
As Mr. Massey brilliantly opened my mind, forcing me to consider that which I never hoped to think about; he also captures and clearly illuminates the quick, strong bonds formed between soldiers. While indeed a work of fiction, there is certainly more truth to his tale than I’d like to admit. This book took me on a roller-coaster ride of emotions; with lows of blood-boiling anger, twists of heart-wrenching sadness and turns of teeth-gnashing frustration; with highs of kindness, caring, compassion and, most importantly, hope.
Well done, Mr. Massey.
Reviewed by jv poore, June 2014.