First here is Jones:

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.

Here thanks to Kira:

The Struggle Trilogy is powerful. It’s a perspective that we need on a war that encompasses a nation thousands of miles from our home- one that feels removed in perspective to the nation whose soil is ravaged everyday by the boots of Americans and police, alike. Indeed, The Struggle Trilogy begins by setting a tone of polarization, as the main character Walid, fights for his family, with one child on the way, his conscience, his friends, and his plight to understand world order and the implications of the War in Iraq while he stands in the middle of his crumbling home and watches his nation fall apart- careful that neither the Americans nor the police take notice.
Screen Shot 2013-09-21 at 2.23.06 AM
Some hidden truths are brought to light in this story. Americans come across as mindless drones of a war they are unsure why they are fighting- only sure they must fight. Their hearts are at home. Their minds focused only on the next bribe. Nationalities in the Middle East are severed- but only for profit. Family life becomes secondary to individual survival, and youth is not regarded as a well, but rather a stream of ignorance.
While the story may be centered around Walid’s life in Baghdad, several peripheral characters are introduced who add depth and breadth to the story, including Douglass, an American soldier. Neither Douglass nor Walid are particularly likable. The humanity of war is exposed through their turmoil- Walid’s slow descent into the underworld of Baghdad’s shady underbelly, and Douglass’s seeming incapability (albeit, this is a great simplification) to think, or even be, for himself. While fiction, it has the power to reshape held views through the raw indignities suffered on both sides- neither of which are painted with a clich├ęd brush. They are real, suffering characters, who endure graphic, physical pain that sears off the pages, and have deep lapses in their conscience behaviors, whether the product of their environment, their humanity, or the greater world that we live in.
The terminology of The Struggle Trilogy expounds upon common military terms. Scenes of violence are not avoided- they are tackled straight on. Expect to feel slightly queasy. The magnitude of the pain, the shockingness of the suffering explored throughout the three parts of the novel leave the reader confused. As does the ending.
The ending is perhaps the weakest part of the story. The rich character development throughout the books gives way to a complacent finish, one that any reader can root for- but which is frustrating all the same because in many ways the ending confirms the confusion, the brutality, the betrayal, and the mindlessness of war explored throughout The Struggle Trilogy– there are no clean cut corners. Winners and losers all stand in the same city of rubble at the end of any battle- the real winners are those who profit from the tangled heaps of wire and concrete, who see past alliances and idealism to the brutal deceits of war and the lives it alters. The Struggle Trilogy is a must-read for anyone interested in a perspective of war that is not diluted- but rather laid out with conclusions for one to draw on their own- outside the range of the media’s influence.
While it may be fiction, it is thought-provoking, tough, and a well-written journey through a very real place.

Number of Pages: 338
Recommended For: book group, discussion
Enjoy it With: steaming coffee

For fans of: war, memoirs, tragedy, The History Channel

Then Cate:

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.

I've loved the apocalypse in books, movies, and television shows since I was a sixth grader and my uncle loaned me The Stand.. I always understood from the beginning that the old world as well as the laws and social norms of that world had died along with all the people. Any means of stopping bad people doing what they wanted had also gone away. Instead of The Golden Rule (he who has the most gold makes the rules) it's the rule of strength, he who has the most strength makes the rules.

I might have mentioned before, but just in case I haven't mentioned it, some of the the biggest problems I have had with the show Revolution are that it appears that the apocalypse happened inside a Gap store and (worst of all) that when the good guys get the drop on the bad guys they either monologue and allow the bad guys to regain the advantage or (again worst of all) let them live. The point is that for whatever reason they have not come to grips with the concept of the rules of the old world dieing with the majority of the people.

This is not the case in the book When Gods Fail.

This book is set in the Pacific Northwest. In Portland, Oregon to be exact. As it opens our hero Tom is an avid spelunker and had been doing his thing when what he thought was an earthquake happened. Stalactites fell and then the whole thing caved in. Good thing for him he had some emergency rations and that the cave had a nice lil' stream so he makes out alright.

He spends a few weeks digging himself out and emerges into a much changed and devastated landscape. The only analogue to the situation he can think of is a forest fire. So thinking the fire has caused the destruction he sets out to find a phone so he can call his wife. What he finds is a cargo container that has been converted into a bugout shelter by a couple of survivalists.

He introduces himself and goes through the social niceties and behaves as though it was just a fire;  a localized event. They fill him in on what exactly has happened, a full-scale nuke war. He thinks they seem like nice enough guys and he enjoys the company. When he realizes they are running low on water he even led them back to the cave he had been trapped in so they could replenish their stock.

However, when they get what water they want, they turn on him and shoot him. They leave him for dead and head back to the cargo container.

Our hero, Tom has learned a valuable lesson.When he meets new people he takes no chances; he kills. When the other poeple have him cornered he waits and watchs. When an opening presents itself he acts decisively and with no mercy.

The change in his character comes so quickly it's a little offputting, but I enjoyed not thinking about how foolish he was being to allow an enemy escape to fight another day.

The other part I didn't enjoy so much was that it was short and the first part of normal sized book ... it ended too quickly. It was a great and fun read, I recommend it. 

Excellent and realistic post-apocalyptic tale, without a single zombie. Well-written and has good characterization, putting it a parsec ahead of the usual story in this overdone genre. It shows how men rapidly lose the trappings of civilization, and their humanity, once everything breaks down.


Lowhim has written a fascinating novel: part science fiction, part noir: it's about a war veteran caught in an underground resistance movement led by a(n) AI (robot) whose true identity and purpose remain a mystery. There are complex twists and turns. The novel makes us confront the moral injury that war inflicts not only on those who fight but also on the society that is caught in a seemingly unstoppable web of violence, hatred, and denial. The novel also affirms the humanity and sense of conscience that seeks to transcend this cycle.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please comment to add to the discussion. Be kind. But let the democratic ideal lead you. And no spamming!