What do you know about the war(s) in Afghanistan? This remarkable story of courage, extremism, intolerance, loyalty, betrayal and love will tell you so much.
The ‘silent’ heroes of the title are the sniffer dogs employed by American Marines in their hunt for IEDs (improvised explosive devices, if you didn’t know). But this story is about much more than these extraordinary canines.
Patricia Furstenberg has clearly done extensive research on the history of Afghanistan, it’s multiple wars, both internal and with invaders from various countries. This is presented through the voices of characters in the story, in several sections. She has also made herself fully conversant with operating methods used by the Marines and the Taliban, their philosophies, and their deeply contrasting views of the value of life.
There is much sadness here, understandably. But there is also great bravery, action, and, against all the odds, hope.
As a reader who sees books through the eyes of a writer, I found some aspects of the book a little irritating: changes in tense, occasional malapropisms. But these in no way detracted from a story that gripped me throughout.
There are passages describing events and locations from points of view that required the author to enter the minds of people she could only imagine. And she does this with quite remarkable success. In particular, an event is described through the eyes of a nine-year-old Afghan boy; the strangeness, unfamiliarity, occasional incomprehension he finds in his temporary environment is pictured with astounding clarity and credibility.
Dog lovers will enjoy the passages that describe the work, relationships and dangers faced by the sniffer dogs and their handlers; though, beware, you may need tissues handy.
There is shocking material here, violence; the appalling catalogue of cruelty practiced by insanely criminal extremists in the pursuit of power under their distorted interpretation of the Qur’an. It is difficult to imagine anyone reading this book without feeling real empathy for the people of Afghanistan as they attempt to lead ordinary lives surrounded by dreadful cruelty, indiscriminate danger from exploding devices and armed gangsters.
The story contains further evidence, if it were needed, that the war on drugs has utterly failed. The only result of such mistaken official policy being the financial reward of terrorists who use the heroin trade to fund their killing sprees.
This is sometimes a hard book to read, but it is also a story that uplifts with its portrayal of people who continue to care for others despite the dangers they face every day. A great read.
[Any review is a personal opinion. No reviewer can represent the view of anyone else. The best we can manage is an honest reaction to any given book.]