Beyond Bullets by Rafal Gerszak with Dawn Hunter

One of my library monitors told me his stepdad had written a book on Afghanistan and so I asked if he would loan it to me to read.

I received it the next day.  I started browsing the first page and knew in those few moments that this was not a book to peruse distractedly. Already I was about to cry. I asked for permission to take the book home so I could read it at my leisure. Last evening I sat down and read it.

Rafal Gerszak is a photojournalist who has been to Afghanistan a number of times. This book reflects those journeys and reveals multiple perspectives on the conflict there. It is a difficult read.

The first part of the book deals with his experiences while embedded with a platoon on the front lines. The writing is simple but powerful. His description of travelling in a Humvee in the heat puts us right there, "it's like wearing full hockey gear and sitting in a sauna--times ten. The armor we wear doesn't breathe at all, plus we wear helmets and gloves (which are fire retardant so that, in case of an explosion, we don't burn our hands; plastic gloves would melt to our skin.)" And that is just the beginning. In this section Gerszak takes us through ambushes, searches through private homes, military hospitals,  humanitarian aid drops and rocket attacks. When a child dies despite heroic efforts of people on all sides of the conflict,  we see clearly that "This girl had nothing to do with the conflict, but everything to do with what's wrong in Afghanistan."

The second part of the book reflects Gerszak's time spent with Afghani people.  There are some truly sublime moments - like the day spent at Qargha lake on the Muslim day of rest. What I learned from this section is that in the midst of the hell of war, people try to live ordinary lives just like you and me. There are aspects that will break your heart: life in a refugee camp, the hardships of medical volunteers, watching children die in a hospital, a conversation with a suicide bomber, child labour, and the situation for women and girls.

My aging eyes had a bit of trouble with the contrast between the page colour and the font, but it wasn't overwhelming. I appreciated the boxes on some pages giving me additional information to help me put Gerszak's experiences into context.

The content is heavy and disturbing, but an eye opening read. I will most certainly get a copy of this book for our library.

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