Saturday, March 27, 2010

Last Night Another Soldier...: Quick Read

Last Night Another Soldier...: Quick Read
Publisher: Corgi
Published: 2010
ISBN-13: 9780552161688
112 pages

Page 86: I wiped the sweat off my mud-caked face, and tried taking deep breaths to calm my breathing. It wasn’t working. ‘Toki, they’re getting closer, mate.’

Who would have known that a 112-page book would pack so much punch and take me, the reader, for a suspenseful ride into the ‘Green Zone’ in Afghanistan? I was contemplating whether to do a full review or a short one, and decided for the former. Last Night Another Soldier… is the story of four of the young men in the British Army, told from the point of view of eighteen-year-old squaddie, David ‘Briggsy’ Briggs. Almost immediately, readers are taken into action, in the middle of a major contact with the Taliban in total darkness. Rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) streaked across the sky, heading straight towards them.

I got acquainted with Toki the corporal who is in charge of their patrol, and his other fellow soldiers Flash and Si. Toki is a big guy from Fiji. Si is only a year older than Briggsy and is married to a Polish girl. Flash is also married and he is a lot older than the three of them and has two boys who are older than Briggsy.

Already in the very beginning, one of the soldiers, John, is being shot while he was trying to bring them more ammo. I literally flinched when I came to the part where I read about his piercing scream in the midst of all that gun fire. Briggsy himself comes into contact with a Taliban who tries to capture him (or any soldiers for that matter) alive and he is trapped physically by the man who would not let go. He struggles and then it dawns on him to use the pistol on his thigh holster. That is his first kill. And get this, the soldiers really do not want to talk about what had happened in the battlefield even for heroic acts.

There are parts that touched me and brought tears to my eyes. John did not make it. This--the conversation between Emma the medic and Briggsy--is the part that made me sad when he is getting treated at the Medic Centre, and the dialogue is somewhat related to John:

‘Don’t worry, he will look a lot cleaner by the time his family gets to see him. They’ll put makeup on him and wash his hair. He should get to Kandahar tonight. He’ll be back home soon.’

I couldn’t find any words. ‘Uh-huh,’ is all that came out. There was another long pause before Emma spoke again. Her voice was small and less sure than usual. ‘First body you’ve seen?’

‘Well, first one of us. Talis don’t count, do they?’

She asked me again. ‘Sure you’re OK?’ I could only nod in response.

‘Well, I’m not,’ she sounded upset as she zipped up the body bag. ‘I don’t think I can go on looking at dead soldiers much longer.’

What Emma had said surprised Briggsy because he would have thought as a medic she would be used to it. Emma said that this is different although she has seen blood and guts in her profession, so she continues to explain:

‘Because I know John. I’ve known all of them. I know each and every guy stuffed in one of those body bags, and each and every guy who arrives here with and an arm or leg blown off. I live with you, eat scoff with you, have a laugh with you, even use the same drums to dump in as you, but you know what?’ A tear started to roll down her face and she brushed it away angrily. ‘Bring on Glasgow’s house fires, car crashes and Saturday night stabbings. If I can’t save them, then at least I don’t have to be mates with them.’

War affects people in so many ways. Not just the soldiers but the people who serve alongside them in other capacities (like Emma) and their loved ones. The physical and mental wounds suffered, doubt and uncertainty faced by the soldiers; the family’s fear of losing their loved ones to war (just imagine how John’s wife would feel when she gets the news of his death); the relief when your soldier calls home (Briggsy’s mother is so happy when he finally calls home after a few days of silence because nobody is allowed to make contact until the family of the dead soldier is informed of the bad news); Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD (Briggsy tries to get in touch with his father because of what he learned about the disorder and that his father could be behaving abusively due to that), and so much more.

Funny how things turn around. You think you haven’t got it in you, then you found out you have. - page 103

These soldiers are heroes and warriors. They watch out for their fellow soldiers and are more than willing to sacrifice themselves for one another. This is a short book but no doubt, a great read. It contains strong language and violent scenes so considered yourself warned. My first McNab book is his non-fiction Seven Troop, which I read a few months ago. I want to read more of McNab’s books and I will definitely be indulging in his thriller novels.

About Andy McNab: He became a soldier as a young man and joined the SAS in 1984. During the Gulf War he led the famous Bravo Two Zero patrol. He left the SAS in 1993, and now lectures to security and intelligence agencies in the USA and UK. He is also the author of eleven bestselling thrillers, all featuring ex-SAS trooper Nick Stone, four novels for children and a previous Quick Read novel, The Grey Man. He has also edited Spoken from the Front, a book of interviews with the British men and women serving in Afghanistan.


Updated @ 11.50 a.m.: I am a subscriber of the Dear Abby column (please don't laugh at me) and found that today's email has some sort of connection with my book review of Last Night Another Soldier... I decided to copy and include it in this post.


DEAR ABBY: I am a medic in the Middle East. I was out on patrol with some of our guys when we were hit with a mortar attack. More than one guy was wounded.

I ran to the first guy and saw that he was hit. He had a wound I knew he wouldn't be able to survive. He pulled a letter from his pocket, put it in my hands and pushed me away. I tried to apply pressure to his wound to slow the bleeding, but he pushed me away again. It was like he was telling me to go to the next man who needed my attention. Everyone survived except him.

At first, I thought I did the right thing by respecting his wishes to help someone I could save. When I got back and talked to his family, they were angry at me for not trying harder to save his life. When I signed up for this job, I knew I wouldn't be able to save everyone, but I am supposed to try my best no matter who it is I am saving.

Was I wrong by going to another man who I could save? Was it wrong of me to take his letter and leave him after he pushed me away twice? Please tell me what you think. -- DOC IN DISTRESS

DEAR DOC: I think you were doing the best you could in an impossible situation. Your patient may have instinctively known he was not going to make it -- which is why he gave you the letter. Of course the family was angry that you couldn't save their loved one -- they are grieving. I urge you to talk to a counselor about what happened and the feelings of guilt you're experiencing. In a situation like the one in which you found yourself, wrenching choices sometimes have to be made. Please stop second-guessing yourself.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. It is the most popular and widely syndicated column in the world--known for its uncommon common sense and youthful perspective.