Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Afghan Campaign by Steven Pressfield

In the company of soldiers
I have no need to explain myself.
In the company of soldiers,
everybody understands.

To repeat the snivelling axiom that 'War is Hell' would be to demean the horrors of war. Oftimes hell is looked forward to as an upgrade in predicament by men in combat, and that certainly holds true for our valiant, confused and ever-so tired soldiers in Steven Pressfield's latest historical, The Afghan Campaign.

Matthias is a Macedonian youth from Appollonia, and together with his best friend Lucas, he follows his two older brothers off to war in the East to serve Alexander The Great. By the time the young soldiers make it out to Alexander's army, he has long since defeated the Persians, and prepares to make war on the Afghani tribes, who stand in his path to India. Seen as an easy campaign, Matthias hopes he will be able to attain some fleeting bit of the glory grasped by his brothers in war against greater nations.

What Matthias discovers is a bit like what the Soviets found in the 1980's in Afghanistan; a bit of what the U.S. has discovered in recent years. Conquering the Afghani people is never easy.

The Afghan Campaign tells the story of a little known piece of history of Alexander The Great, by way of a few of his soldiers. Pressfield is at his absolute best using this narrative strategy, and much like in Gates of Fire before, he uses this technique to shape The Afghan Campaign into a brilliant novel.

Even more so than in his past novels, The Afghan Campaign rang true both in its dialogue and in the situations and problems that these fighting men faced. As a veteran, this truth is all-important to the believability of the tale, and Pressfield succeeded nigh perfectly. My one complaint about this tale was the same fault shared by every great novel; it was too short.

The parallels to our present day problems in the Middle East and in Afghanistan in particular will not be lost on the reader. Each victory is pyrrhic, and each loss calamitous. Whichever side of the argument you may fall, The Afghan Campaign is a great way to gain a sense of exactly what it is that we are up against.


Collector's Notes:

First editions of Gates of Fire are worth a pretty penny, and this novel is just as good. However, the publishers undoubtedly know this, and the print run is not nearly so small. That said, preserving a pristine first of The Afghan Campaign would not be amiss. Pressfield is quickly becoming the best historical fiction author of our time. You ought not miss out.

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