Giordano’s (The Solitude of Prime Numbers, 2010) unorthodox Afghanistan war novel is short on action but rich in psychological insight.
In a post outside Afghanistan, a team of Italian soldiers copes with boredom, fear and barely human living conditions. This is no typical group of heroes: Medical officer Egitto is a former male prostitute who’s just learned that one client is pregnant with his child; Cpl. Ietri is a naïve 20-year-old who’s still attached to his mother. One officer gets into an online relationship that turns abusive. Another is a bully who singles out one subordinate for mistreatment, Full Metal Jacket style. And two female officers drift into unhealthy relationships with their colleagues. For much of the book, the closest thing they see to action is an epidemic of food poisoning. Military engagement finally arrives in the form of an ill-advised plan to transport local truck drivers away from the reach of bloodthirsty insurgents. As some in the company predict, the mission is a disaster, with many of the major characters wiped out in an instant. There's no easy resolution, but all the survivors are transformed as they return to their former lives. Giordano tells the story with economical language and a few memorable images, most notably that of the convoy getting overrun with sheep just before the carnage erupts.
As the title suggests, the book is less about military heroism than the devastating human impact of combat. Well-observed and compassionate, this is a memorable look at imperfect people in extreme circumstances.