East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

War & Peace in Afghanistan

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cover74505-mediumI got an advance reader copy of Melissa Burch’s My Journey through War and Peace.
I got it not by some strange chance, but because I requested it.
What caught me was the tag-line: Explorations of a young film-maker, feminist and spiritual seeker.
For the uninitiated, Melissa Burch was a young camera operator and reporter during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
So I expected the book to be about the sort of exploration that I like – a first-hand account of a war-torn sector of the map that has been war-torn for most of our history.
What I got was much more.

Burch’s account is vivid and heartfelt – she was in the field with the mujahideen, she traveled through Afghanistan as the Russian army was getting deeper and deeper in the quicksand of the Afghan guerrilla.
But the author is not simply interested in describing the events of the war.
The book shows us the ambiguity of journalism – that can be turned into entertainment, or propaganda. The ease with which the information can be manipulated by all involved parties has a sinister, and sometimes surreal feel.
Burch is very frank in her depiction of the events – sometimes almost painfully so.
She’s also quite capable of describing the personality of the people she met with a few, precise and well-placed brush-strokes.

melissa-burch-ak47The events of the war are mixed with the events from the author’s life before and after the events – because the final purpose of the book, its actual exploration, is not an exploration of the Afghan territory, or of the Russian/Afghan conflict. Burch is exploring the development of her own personality, of her outlook and her spiritual awakening, together with the events that shaped these aspects of her life

The spiritual side is very pragmatic, personal and almost dry at times, and it is devoid of any new-agey psychobabble or other artifice1. It feels authentic, and once again, at times almost painfully so.

Personal growth, international events, the power of images and of individual experience, the long-time effects of the events in our past…
Burch’s Journey touches on a variety of subjects, showing how strange connections can shape the future, of both individuals and nations.
A great read, highly recommended – the book will be out in March 2016.

  1. there’s a lot of this stuff out there, after all. 

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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