In the fast-paced depiction of the war in Afghanistan at the end of 2000s, French author DOA depicts the search for the Afghan soul, the “Pukthu” – the code of honor and justice, that his characters pursue in vain. Retired warlords, rogue mercenaries, lost soldiers and tired journalists look for meaning and truth in a chaotic world that does not make sense anymore. Though well researched and entertaining, the book’s characters feel somehow a bit unoriginal. A sense of deja-vue echoes through the narrative of stereotypical personae: the tough soldier looking for a way out, the crazy doped bad guy, the old corrupted war-mongers in the shadow, the prostitute with the heart of gold. Maybe because we have seen this in other (better?) depiction of real-world events with a gallery of colorful characters. The Wire and The Shield come to mind as strong TV influences on DOA’s style, however here most lack an actual personality or traits to root for or to clearly remember.
Where the book gains in force and impact though is the musicality in the writing, a clear influence from James Ellroy, and the overall sense of pathos-less doom that looms over these scattered protagonists. There is no forced gravitas or faked tragedy when the bullets or explosions hit characters you have spend a couple of hundreds of pages with. The straightly told events add weight and impact to the harsh world the author depicts. The first book of a trilogy, praise also be that no time is lost on heavy descriptions or introductions that often burden primers. Is it enough to continue the journey though ? It will depend on your drive to pursue this harsh blunt voyage looking for honor and justice in the chaos of war past and present.