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Recently read: The Forever War

[Originally published at the now defunct group blog explananda.com]


Posted on January 30, 2009
Tags: book_reviews

Dexter Filkins. The Forever War

The Forever War begins in Afghanistan in 1998 and devotes a few opening chapters to that time and place, but most of the book is devoted to Iraq and the three and a half years that Filkins spent there as a reporter for the New York Times. Filkins touches on political events and characters, but he does not really attempt the sort of larger structural analysis of the situation in Iraq that many books on the subject offer. He also provides an indirect look at the terrible forces at work on Iraqis during those bleak years, but unlike reporters like Anthony Shadid or Nir Rosen, Filkins doesn’t speak Arabic, and so much of what we learn from him about Iraqis and their lives is filtered through translators, and an honestly confessed cultural incomprehension on his part.

What we really get from Filkins in this book is a very finely written account of what it is like to be a reporter in a war zone. He travels through Fallujah days before the four contractors are killed, then travels back in in the company of Marine’s taking over the city block by block. He jogs through Baghdad in the early days of the occupation, before it becomes too dangerous. He travels to the South of the country to talk with the Mahdi as they clash with government forces. And he noses about the city, with a surprising tolerance for danger, writing about kidnappings, politicians, ethnic cleansing, disappearances, and more.

Filkins attacks his subject from a variety of angles over a series of chronologically and thematically disconnected chapters, none of them very long, some as brief as a single page. Taken singly, the anecdotes are compelling and readable. Cumulatively, they build an atmosphere and a complex impression of his subject very effectively.

Filkins’ time in Iraq covered the very worst years for the country after the beginning of the occupation. Recently, and after his book came out, he returned (he’s currently on assignment in Afghanistan) to Iraq and wrote a frankly astonished piece about how far the country had come since he left it, if not politically then at least in terms of safety and stability. My own sense is that the country is more likely than not to collapse into a full blown civil war within the decade, rather than emerge slowly but surely from the carnage of the last few years. But we’ll see; with a bit of luck I’ll be wrong again. Certainly Filkin’s most recent piece on Iraq is much lighter than this very dark book about that troubled place.

Comments


Author: upyernoz
Date: 2009-01-31

for a moment, i thought you were going to review the 1974 science fiction classic (and vietnam war allegory) by joe haldeman.



Author: Chris
Date: 2009-01-31

Huh. I had no idea there was another book with that title.



Author: upyernoz
Date: 2009-02-01

it’s a classic! and soon to be a major motion picture.