Khristmas in Kabul

Once Upon A Time In Afghanistan

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
120 Pages
Reviewed on 10/02/2020
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

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?

Grant Leishman

Khristmas in Kabul: Once Upon A Time In Afghanistan by Ian Trevor King is a searing indictment on the Afghan war in particular but on war and human nature in general. Told through the eyes of a major deployed in Afghanistan, the story focuses on the competing motivations and actions of the various players in this combat tragedy. The major, a Texan from the bible-belt of America, questions the purpose of their deployment in this tragic country and is deeply torn between the relationships he is building amongst the Afghan civilians and the need to remain laser-focused on his and his men’s survival. He allows himself to question everything about the war, war in general, and indeed the human condition that makes such conflicts necessary. Despite attempts to create a friendly atmosphere with his civilian helpers, their families, the captured Taliban prisoners, and indeed the village people in general, he seems to be just one small step away from total disaster at all times and potentially returning to his beloved America in a box. It’s a battle for survival but not just physical survival – it is just as much a battle for mental and emotional survival as well.

Khristmas in Kabul may be relatively short in length but it is packed full of hard-hitting and thought-provoking opinions and outlooks. Author Ian Trevor King has done an amazing job of packing such a searing indictment on the military leadership, their puppet masters in the Pentagon, and the overall war in Afghanistan in so few pages. I particularly enjoyed the interactions with the local Afghans where the author presented both viewpoints of the war, especially as it applied to that most used and abused term “collateral damage.” Tortured by his own “collateral damage,” it was clear the “hero” of this tale was no hero in his own mind, and much of what motivated his actions toward the Afghans could be traced back to that fateful decision he’d made in an earlier operation. This gave his story real depth, humanity, and believability. The author’s style was incredibly compelling. His use of and grasp of the English language allowed him to convey the depth of feeling and futility of the exercise he was describing. This is a book that grabs you from page one and won’t let go of you until it spits you out at the end. Any book that leaves you wondering, asking yourself questions, and thinking about it after you’ve put it down is a book well worth reading and I can highly recommend this story.

Jose Cornelio

Khristmas in Kabul: Once Upon A Time in Afghanistan by Ian Trevor King is a compelling historical novel that captures the fever of the US war in Afghanistan. The book introduces readers to an interesting cast of characters and a world turned upside-down by war. It begins with an assault, a local Taliban unit deciding to break the Sabbath ritual, perhaps just for sheer fun or some potshot casual target practice. An assassin on the loose, poised against the Americans who believe everything about them is the best, is determined to teach them a lesson. The narrative moves on fast, following characters engulfed in a sinister war, and some do not last long in the story.

Ian Trevor King is a great storyteller and I loved the author’s evocative style of writing. The use of the second-person voice in the narrative enriches the elegance and engages the reader. It connects the voice to the reader and makes it feel like someone sat before the reader, telling them their story. The writing is superb, with descriptions that portray the atmosphere in the conflict-infested zones in Afghanistan and the struggle to survive amidst the numerous attacks. Khristmas in Kabul: Once Upon A Time in Afghanistan is a good read and Ian Trevor King does a wonderful job with the characters, all engulfed in skirmishes, most of which some of the characters never asked for. The commentaries are wonderfully written and the plot is packed with surprises. The author gives readers a feel of the war in Afghanistan, and he does so with style.

Lesley Jones

In Khristmas in Kabul by Ian Trevor King, the Taliban still controls some areas of Afghanistan as the US military tries to help rebuild the war-torn country. Follow the plight of US Major O'Donnelly as he battles with his moral conscience of faith and his duty of office to carry out his mission to stabilize and secure the country. As O'Donnelly is determined to respect the culture and traditions of the Afghan people, he knows that there is no such thing as long-term friendships or complete trust between himself and the native citizens. He discovers that some of the Afghan people are just innocent bystanders caught between the terror of the Taliban and the indiscriminate drone attacks of the West. But he also knows that there still remain, lurking in the shadows, supporters of the Taliban that will kill any infidel on command. The celebration of Christmas passes relatively quietly for the country's 10% of Christians for fear of persecution. But as O'Donnelly tries to make sense of the absurdity of the rules, regulations, and cultural sensitivities, he is about to face the dire consequences of being a member of the military in Afghanistan.

Khristmas in Kabul by Ian Trevor King is such a powerful story and covers the topic of being a member of the US military in a war-torn country with a unique, interesting perspective. The characters are very realistic and their values and morals are examined with incredible detail. I loved the first-person view of O'Donnolly's personal experiences as he revealed his innermost thoughts about the situations he found himself in. I found the watermelon scene absolutely chilling, with violence that was deemed normal by the Afghan people involved. Although there are many disturbing scenes of violence and abuse throughout, there are also many areas of humor, especially O'Donnolly's view of the Smart Card and 'observable indicators'. The story also gives a very important insight into the values of the Afghan people; most were very proud and did not need or desire the West's sympathy or pity. The ending was very emotional and covers the reality of war with a powerful punch. The final chapter outlines the current loss of liberty and dwindling religious beliefs in a tremendous, thought-provoking ending.

Romuald Dzemo

Ќhristmas in Ќabul: Once Upon A Time in Afghanistan by Ian Trevor King is a meld of military thriller and historical fiction that takes readers on a rollicking ride through the US war in Afghanistan. The story focuses on the deadly activities and the dangers the characters face, including threats from Taliban assassins and fighting units. Guards get killed; people get assassinated in places like the bazaar. In the heart of the narrative is the story of survival in a conflict that continually grows out of control, and the characters, from Payam and Rashid, Major O’Donnelly, Tommy, Riley, Faraz, and a host of others, find themselves always on the alert, for the dangers that lurk in the night. This is a novel that demonstrates what it was like to be in the midst of the conflict in Afghanistan.

The story is well-written and it captures terrific details in the descriptions. Whether it is about a stealthy figure groping through the night, a covert activity to take down an enemy, the author weaves details that make images come alive in the minds of readers —a single muffled shot, a rag wrapped tight around the barrel, spilled brains and “blood had mixed with the pool of steaming urine on the floor: red-on-yellow.” I loved how Ian Trevor King uses the second-person narrative voice to develop the stream of consciousness and this works so well for the novel, especially where he describes a general habit, sentiment, or phenomenon. The writing is stylistic and it features strong imagery. Ќhristmas in Ќabul: Once Upon A Time in Afghanistan plunges readers into the heart of war, and it is as dirty as any can be. Written in beautiful prose, it is an engaging narrative with memorable characters.