Walker’s linked short stories describe the people and the chaos in the majestic, frightening region of the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier from the time of the Soviet invasion to the more recent U.S.-led war.
Author Walker (Courting the Diamond Sow, 2000, etc.) builds these 13 tales around Special Forces Officer Col. Bailey and his counterpart and friend from Pakistan. Though fictional, the episodes are based on real events and show the beauty and, to Western eyes, the mystery of the region. Danger is always present as Bailey (perhaps a stand-in for Walker himself) tries to befriend the Pashtuns and Afghans while chasing al-Qaida and all manner of nasty terrorists. With his Pakistani colleague, he goes into a remote area to establish the truth of a claim that a tribal sect has captured a Soviet chemical-weapons truck (actually a mobile field hospital). Bailey is never quite sure who’s on whose side, knowing shifting allegiances have forever been the way of life in Afghanistan. Bailey must determine the reason for a suicide bombing and engage in a firefight with al-Qaida–linked terrorists. Interspersed among these incidents are the colonel’s accounts of the home of Special Forces, Fort Bragg; interference from politicians; nonsensical decisions by colonels and generals to abort an operation; and frustration with the news media. A TV reporter who has ignored advice is badly wounded in an attack and has to be airlifted out, putting everyone in danger. The author is well-aware of the trickery and chicanery in Afghanistan, but he has great respect for the people and the region. Vivid details abound; Walker’s description of a character’s “lean, sunken cheeks, one eye the milky white of advanced cataracts, and a voluminous white turban accented with a tall gold-colored brush” brings him to life. Military tactics play against the background of the thousands of years of history that have produced the Afghanistan of today.
Insightful, striking portrayal of the Afghan culture and people.