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Reviewed by Jon Michael Miller for Readers' Favorite
“The fog of war” is a phrase that keeps coming up in Khristmas in Kabul, Ian T. King’s brilliantly and intricately composed verbal concerto about the longest-running war in US history. His text presents us with the challenge of the greatest of literature at any time in any place—the challenge of the ambiguities of human existence. King’s use of the second-person point of view is a rarity in my experience. Vibrating behind the poetry throbs a heartbreaking story. There is a major with a Ph.D., Jack O’Donnelly, a Texas evangelical in the U.S. Army stationed at a base near Kabul around Christmas time. He dreams of his wife and two children back home. He has had a mind-numbing experience of having to shoot a child determined to become a martyr. He believes in helping the locals, building a library, giving presents to the kids, employing “trustworthy” Afghans to work on the base, and ignoring the unsavory local customs such as pedophilia, the subjugation of women, and the harvesting of crops destined to create addiction around the globe. He “feels” for the desperate inhabitants of this war-torn place where one cannot know friends from enemies.
Ian T. King’s use of the second-person point of view attached me to Khristmas in Kabul right away, put me there as if I were Major O’Donnelly, the protagonist. The “you” approach made me feel the place, breathe it, wander in the foggy danger of not knowing what was real and what was not. Yes, it anchored me in a kind of phantasmagoria in a war where even the most innocent-appearing persons and things could be lethal—from trusted servants, assistants, comrades, marketplaces, children, even dogs, and each and every rock or bush that may be hiding an IED. And a war that we, here at home, rarely think about. And what swept me along was the poetry of King’s devastatingly stunning prose. Elegance wedded to sarcasm and bitterness. The horror is not political, not one side against the other, who is right and who is wrong, but rather the horror is man’s aloneness in the universe. It’s the horror Kurtz discovers in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness—the mayhem and death. All that suffering ... and for what?