art of the reason I desperately had my wife pinch-hit for me last week is the fact that Kara Kush is 575 pages long. But no, it’s not just that. The problem I had was that this book was a very slow read.
Sounded like it should be interesting – an American who grew up in Afghanistan finds himself as the de facto leader of the Mujahideen when the Soviets invade in the early ‘80s. Like Batman, he has wealth, connections, and even a secret cave to base. Add to this the discovery of a vast horde of ancient gold which the Soviets are going to carry out of the country, enough wealth that it could shift the world’s balance of power, and you have the prime ingredients for conflict.
My problem with this book was that it’s told as a series of Pathan tales, mini-epics that weave a greater narrative. Possibly so, but in reality you’ve got long side-stories that don’t seem to go anywhere. One character, a humble Indian, wishes to avenge a relative of his, a fifteen-year old kid hung by the soviets. And so we go through the entire bit, from his asking to time off to making his contact in country to getting a perfect gun to finding the perfect spot to snipe the official involved, to his waiting in that very tree for hours and hours, pages and pages. And when the target shows, he (spoiler) pots him and heads home. That’s a long way to go for a sideshow bit.
The battles read more like the epics of the Iliad (and not in a good way). In every skirmish, a heroic Afghan kills a dozen soldiers and then (usually) gets shot in the back or dies when he’s too close to the last tank he destroyed. And that’s just like Homer, a long chapter of he killed she killed. Instead of interfering gods, you have magical desert winds that destroy aircraft (and when the wind drops a bit, clever kite-bombs down the surviving Hind gunships). At the very end, when all is hopeless, the last gods(an American strike team) lobs a bunch of missiles at the gold shipment and destroy it. Sure.
I can only wonder how this looks to modern eyes. After all, the Soviets learned their lesson and pulled out. But we, the Americans, have been in there for almost twenty years. I know there is a reprint on the way of this book – could there be a sequel, with us as the evil yet inept invaders?
Possibly. But don’t look to me to read it. I think I’m filled up on this sort of thing.