Book Review: ‘The Forever War’ by Dexter Filkins

I’m not the first to say this is a powerful book. Filkins won awards from the National Book Critics Circle and NYTimes Book Review. It was a best-seller in hardcover. I lent my first copy to someone, and it went into the book-loan twilight zone, which is why I bought the paperback about a month ago. I recalled being so impressed upon reading it the first time. I hadn’t read such gripping prose about war since reading Michael Herr’s “Dispatches” about the Vietnam War in the ’70s. I went back to the book for more than the literary kicks, though. Filkins’ eyewitness accounts of Afghanistan in the run-up to 9/11 and the early years of the Iraq war provide helpful perspective to the daily news reports from the war zones and political rehashing of policy decisions in the past ten years.

Filkins manages to put the humanity up front in his bursts of nearly real-time reporting. He worked from a stack of hundreds of notebooks that he’d filled on the run, while taking cover, and literarally under covers in some instances when he had to write with the flashlight hidden. He doesn’t appear to spare any detail, no matter how gruesome, in conveying the raw barbarism of war-fighting and what it does to the killers and casualties. He tracks a couple of the family stories back to the U.S. and puts a face on the homefront as well. There’s no neat conclusion at the end because the fighting goes on (“The Forever War”) even though he exits the battlefield. I heard he’d recently gone back to do more reporting. The book is structured as a collection of scenes really, like a slightly disjoint documentary film. Some of the chapters are only a few pages long. One reviewer described the book as a “kaliedoscope of images and intensity.” Most of all, I recommend the book for what the reader will learn about the people and culture of those nations where the United States and many other countries have been engaged in a bloody and mind-bendingly complicated fight against adversaries whose eyes see a different world than ours do.

Dexter Filkins (web photo courtesy NYT)

4 Responses to Book Review: ‘The Forever War’ by Dexter Filkins

  1. DickH says:

    I concur with Paul’s assessment of “The Forever War” which will be recognized for one of the great works of war reporting of all time. Filkins covered Iraq and Afghanistan for the New York Times and whenever something with his byline appeared in the paper, it was always the first thing I read.

  2. Dean says:

    Paul, a great book that just came out about combat in Viet-nam. Is a novel by Karl Marlantes, “Matterhorn” is the name of the book.I am presently reading “War” by Sebastian Junger.It is so-so. The platoon, company and airborne battalion of the 173rd Airborne Brigade he is writing about was lead (as a Lt.)by a friend of mine in Viet-nam. He was from Lowell and now lives in NH.

  3. PaulM says:

    Dean, I just heard Marlentes interviewed on the BBC’s arts program, “The Strand” on the New Hampshire Public Radio station from Nashua. I was in a bookstore the other day trying to remember the title of a novel about Vietnam that reviewers were raving about. Same book. “Matterhorn.” I’m going to read it.