Atkinson’s debut memoir recounts the hardships and rewards of working to develop war-torn Afghanistan.
Beginning with his memories of the attacks of 9/11, Atkinson details his journey to working in Afghanistan during the outbreak of the war. What began as a two-month commitment became a nearly seven-year excursion, during which he oversaw multiple construction projects and endured the harsh realities of working in the region. His experiences highlight the joy and purpose that his work provided him, and also the immense danger and political corruption that threatened it, often in close proximity. Early in the memoir, for example, he recounts meeting with a local governor to discuss a road development project only for the governor to be killed two weeks later by a suicide bomber. In the memoir’s final chapters, the author writes how he became a victim of extortion that led to his wrongful imprisonment. Atkinson’s deeply held Christian faith informs his interpretations of these many experiences, and they provide a constant source of reflection throughout the memoir. It unfolds in a series of somewhat fragmentary chapters, each focused on a particular project or incident. Like the photos that accompany each chapter, they offer readers candid snapshots of the country, the Afghan people, and the people working with them or serving in the armed forces. Throughout, Atkinson avoids condescension or judgment, even when his faith and background put him in conflict with the people he encounters. The memoir’s most engaging moments focus on the hardships he experienced, although the author rarely dwells on them negatively, instead referring back to his faith for guidance. This tone, combined with the scattered structure, results in a compelling, if uneven, narrative.
An often engaging, personal account of a complicated subject.