A young Oxford graduate’s tale of heat, boredom and adrenaline-rush warfare in Afghanistan.
Now in his late 20s, Hennessey became a captain in the Grenadier Guards at age 22 and soon learned to love combat and its “danger and…startling unpredictability.” His irreverent, nonstop narrative offers a revealing view of young British soldiers, many university-educated, all armed with iPods and video games, as they seek wartime glory and action. Telling girlfriends they’re off to hunt Osama bin Laden, they initially found themselves keeping tourists happy in London, maintaining the peace in the Balkans and fighting the desert heat in Iraq, where the author and his military-academy buddies launched their eponymous reading club. While sitting around in boxer shorts between shifts, they read fraying paperback editions of Catch-22, Don Quixote, Tristram Shandy and other novels whose surreal aspects had striking immediacy in the strange otherness of war. Their reading—along with video games, the music of Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley and much-needed Facebook fixes—provided a respite between patrols and eventual firefights with “Terry,” the enemy, first in Baghdad and then, in 2007, amid sandstorms and head-high poppies in Afghanistan. Relating much of his story in e-mails, Hennessey captures the fear and excitement of combat, celebrating “just how easy it all was, how natural it all felt and how much fun,” even as he grieved over the deaths of comrades. Though the frequent use of acronyms and British slang may put off some American readers, the author offers numerous vivid snapshots of his experiences—watching Band of Brothers and Gladiator to learn combat techniques; giant platoon snowball fights in Bosnia; a debate on the best iPod music for their first mission (they select Metallica); futile attempts to train undisciplined troops of the Afghan National Army who couldn’t shape their berets, couldn’t hit targets with their rusted or broken AK-47s and wore whatever they wanted; and the Bangladeshi Pizza Hut workers’ continuing delivery of pies during mortar attacks on a logistics base in Iraq.
An honest, graphic portrait of young men on the modern battlefield.