Saturday, 17 January 2009

Review – Steven PRESSFIELD – “The Afghan Campaign”

Publ: 2006 Doubleday
Pensby Library
ISBN: 9780385610650
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 316p
Found by Serendipity
Rating: ***** *****

What led you to pick up this book?
Pressfield was a new author to me; the cover; the title; and my general liking for historical fiction.

Describe the plot without giving anything away.
The Afghan campaign of Alexander the Great which began in 330BC. The campaign was the longest in Alexander’s career and the un like his previous ones he was fighting the free tribesmen of what is now Afghanistan and Turkmenistan and the horse warriors of what would become Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
So many historical novels attempt to tell the story from the point of view of the top man or someone close to the top – a chronicler, second-in-command or whatever. This is the story of the campaign as seen by an average soldier, Matthias, a Macedonian, taking part in a Devil’s War in a Devil’s Country.
It is a deeply interesting account of the trek into and around Afghanistan and Alexander’s attempts at conquest.

What did you think of the characters?
Although it is personal enough for the story of Matthias and the other key characters to be important the great strength of the books lies in its assessment of the war itself and of its psychological impact on the participants. Another point of importance is that the views of both sides are represented and, as is so often the case, the rights and wrongs get confused. Pressfield’s use of slang (whether real or invented by him) helps further to make the characters live.

What did you think about the style?
The style is that of a journalist or a top-class historian with the added skill of the fiction storyteller. One would swear that Pressfield was there, in Afghanistan, at the time.

What did you like most about the book?
It not only grips as a story from classical times but also as something so easily compared to modern times. The comparison between Alexander and the Western troops still to be found in the same spot is unavoidable. Ironically, at one stage one of the characters is asked when he thinks the war will be over – the answer “Never”. As someone who has never lived the life of a soldier, I can only assume that as a summary of what all wars can be like this is as good as you get.

Was there anything you didn't like about the book?

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.
A better than average painting – by Larry Rostant. Attractive and most suitable.

Would I recommend it?
Yes, to anyone interested in historical fiction. It also has a wider appeal as a classic novel.

Totally irrelevant side note:
The geographical detail and the description of the scenery and weather was on a par with the rest.


“There is no honour in war, my friend. Only in poems of war.”

I flop in the dust with Danae’s letters. Like every scuff, I arrange them first in order – most recent on top. That way I’ll know early if my darling has sent me a ‘Sorry, sweetheart’.

STEVEN PRESSFIELD was born in 1943 and is an American novelist and author of screenplays, principally of military historical fiction set in classical antiquity. He lives in California.

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