An Air Force major and female Army translator battle for survival in Afghanistan after their transport plane is shot down during a blizzard.
In this impressive first novel by a decorated former flight engineer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Air National Guard, the conflict in Afghanistan is reduced in gripping personal terms to its basics: Man against man, man against nature, hope against despair, fear against itself. Major Michael Parson is the navigator of a C-130 Hercules carrying a high-ranking Taliban mullah to an interrogation center. After the plane is downed by a shoulder-launched missile and other surviving crew members are killed by insurgents, Parson and interpreter Gold escape with their shackled prisoner. Stranded in the bone-chilling wilds of the Hindu Kush, with no chance of rescue because of low visibility, they hole up in snow caves, nurse injuries and await the enemy. In a terrifying sequence in the first part of the book that brings Parson to tears, they are captured by the Taliban and about to be beheaded. An Afghan-American squad saves Parson but can't prevent the ruthless Marwan and his men from dragging off Gold. When orders from above make saving her a secondary priority, Parson goes after her alone. Ultimately, he is influenced by the sense of morality she maintains even after she is tortured. Young is an excellent storyteller, creating memorable characters with Hemingway-like understatement and precision. His descriptions of the terrain, the sound different weapons make, the feeling of fingers and toes succumbing to frostbite, the way thinks look through night vision goggles, are superb.
A smart, unsettling, timely novel that puts a human face on the Afghanistan conflict while conveying the immense challenges the United States faces there.