Tuesday, September 20, 2016

New Audiobook out!

Oh my, I think I forgot to mention that there is (finally, and thanks to Troy Cunningham for his hard work!!) the Struggle Trilogy Audiobook finally up. [1] A solid book, you should read it, and barring that, at least get the audiobook so you can listen whilst doing chores and such. Below are a handful of the reviews this book received. Not to be missed, like I said (and at least it seems to have been prescient in many ways). Here are the reviews:

Nelson Lowhim was in the American Army; based on his biography, he did two tours in Iraq and they were not "desk jobs." War has often been described as being one of long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of intense, adrenalin-pumping terror. Lowhim does not appear to have been too bored; in fact, he utilized all that "boring time" to gain an understanding of the people of Iraq, and the social and economic dynamics that were unleashed by the American invasion to remove Saddam Hussein from power. He also learned far more Arabic than most American soldiers learn German if they are stationed in Germany. But what truly makes this an "extra ordinary" work, even a work that is in a class of one, is that while serving as a soldier on one side in a war, he acquired a thorough understanding of the thinking and actions of the other side - enough so, to produce this novel.

There aren't any "good guys" in this tale, and it is definitely not for the "fun-read crowd." I never felt that the horror and the cruelty - like the alternate uses for a power drill- were thrown in for shock effect. No, they were just an integral part of the scene, like the smell of cooked fish in Sadr City, the cheap cologne, the wet dreams and the bank accounts in Dubai. If there is a single protagonist in this tale, it is Walid. He is a Shia, who is deeply disturbed by the car-bomb killings of his brethren by Sunnis. He is also not very happy with the Americans, and joins his older brother Mahmud, in fighting them in Karbala. Mahmud is killed, and will haunt Walid's dreams. Walid has to decide whether he is a coward or a "real man," and accomplishes the latter status the old-fashioned way: by killing another. Bashir is a Lebanese "go-between," which seems to be a national occupation. Qassem is the "face" of Iran, and the bag-man who dispenses the money, and supplies the road-side bombs to Walid, and his nascent group, to be used against the Americans - and pays double for a good video of a successful attack.

Roughly 80% of the novel concerns the Iraqis, the other 20% concerns the Americans. And none of them are portrayed very positively either. Lowhim provides most telling negative details that demonstrate his clear grasp of the underbelly of American culture. The ugly racism towards the "raghe*ds" is pervasive. The author develops well the tragic intersections between these two groups, depicting them by laying the groundwork that results in that often fatal interaction in alternate sections of his work.

Many a denizen of the corporate world would recognize (and authenticate!) the group dynamics that Lowhim uses to advance the plot: Duplicity, betrayal, intimidation, intrigue, venality, money, actions predicated on "face-saving," "playing king on the mountain," and the endless pursuit of better "intelligence" as to the motivation and actions of those within and without any selected group. In the corporate world, all these machinations usually do not lead to death. In Iraq, as with most wars, all too often, they do. Students of the history of the French Revolution would recognize the same dynamics that lead the Revolution to "consume its children." In the end, are they ALL just so many pawns in an overall game being played by the Masters of War? And do some of the pawns recognize this?

Is Lowhim's novel an authentic depiction of those tragic events in Iraq? I think so, though I have never been to Iraq. I took the two "vectors" of my own personal experience, that of an American soldier in Vietnam during the war, and crossed it with my 20-years plus work experience in the Arab world, and at the intersection, I found Lowhim's account. Of the telling details was Lowhim's use of the Arabic word "Shlonik," which he does not explain for the "uninitiated," or non-Arabic speakers, but means, literally, "how is your color," and is simply an familiar way of asking: "how are you doing." And if anyone else knows of an authentic novel written by a soldier on one side in a war, about the forces on the other side, I'd loved a comment addressing same. As for Lowhim's novel, definitely 5-stars.
on January 29, 2014
Although this is a review on a trilogy of books, I really feel it is more a review on just one book. If you are going to read this, please don’t try to break it down into three parts, just jump straight in and read it as if it is a complete book, I assure you that you will not be disappointed. While I am on this subject, I’m not sure why the Author chose to split this book into three as it works very well as a full novel on its own. Also you if have a weak stomach, be warned that this is a book set in a combat zone; the scenes of violence contained in it cannot be avoided and, in some places, they may make the reader sick to their stomach. However, this is also one of the strengths of this book, as it serves to bring right into the readers comfortable reading spot a perspective on a war that has often been used as a political tool by Governments far and wide.

The main protagonist is in this book is not a likeable one at all, despite starting out with good intentions in his fight for the preservation of his life and that of his Family’s he soon slides into a world that brings about actions which truly make the reader doubt if he ever had a decent bone in his body to start with. If it had not been for several other characters I encountered in reading this novel, I think the main character would have truly made me reconsider completing this book. Other characters are written in such a way that they add depth and breadth to the story; the humanity or inhumanity of war is reflected through their actions and shown in the turmoil they face on a day to day basis. The Author has done an excellent job of taking personalities from both side of this conflict and making them equally likeable or not, regardless of their background; with a skilful pen the Author demonstrates the motivations of all the different groups operating in this war without taking a firm stand for one group or the other. Regardless of whether the reader likes the characters or not in this book, there is no avoiding the fact that we are reading about real and suffering people who endure the unthinkable and have, like all humans lapses in their moral codes.

For me, I found this to be a very emotional book to read; knowing the Author is a Veteran themselves and had actually been in the same dark place my Husband had, made me realize that this was just as much as healing tool for the Author as it was a piece of fiction based on facts for the reader. The book is full of common military terms and, at times I could hear the words of the Author echoed in conversations I have had with others that were in Iraq during the early years of the war. Although many readers may think that the ending to this book is rather weak compared to the rest of the contents, I felt it was very indicative of the nature of this conflict; there are no clear rules of engagement and no nice clean happy endings, at the end of the day there are losses on both sides and each have to rebuild not only their homes but their lives as well, physically and mentally.

This is a very thought provoking novel, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who would like to get another perspective on the Iraq war and those who are interested in military books.

[1] You can sign up for the email above and get a chance at winning a free version.

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