Aziz and his older brother Ali are coming of age in a tiny village in the pine forests and endless mountains of eastern Afghanistan. There is no school, but their mother teaches them to read and write, and once a month she sends the boys on a two-day journey to the bazaar in Orgun. The family is not “large or prosperous,” but, inside their mud-walled home, they have stability and routine. This is all destroyed in a single day when a convoy of armed men arrive in their village. Aziz and Ali elude these militants, but, in a random act of violence, their parents are taken from them. The boys make their way to Orgun, where they sleep among the orphans in the surrounding hills. They learn to beg, and eventually they earn work and trust from the local shopkeepers. Ali saves their money and sends Aziz to school at the madrassa.
When United States forces invade the country, the militants launch increasingly brutal attacks, and the brothers find themselves caught in a deadly conflict whose shape they barely comprehend. After Ali is horribly disfigured in a militant bombing, Aziz meets an Afghan wearing an American uniform in the hospital and is recruited into the Special Lashkar, a US-funded militia. Driven by a desire for revenge and a need to provide for his brother, Aziz—no longer a boy but not yet a man—departs for the untamed border region to train as a soldier. Trapped in a conflict both savage and entirely contrived, Aziz struggles to understand his place in this world. Will he embrace the brutality of war or leave it behind and risk placing his brother—and a young woman he comes to love—in jeopardy?
A former Marine and CIA officer, Elliot Ackerman has written a gripping, morally complex debut novel—an astounding act of empathy and imagination about the duplicitous nature of war. Download and start listening now!