• Review: Old Silk Road, by Brandon Caro

    November 11, 2015

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Iraq, Military


    Brandon Caro’s debut novel, Old Silk Road, is an important, tough read, both for the dirt-under-its-nails portrayal of soldiers at war, and for a complex plot that rewards a reader with insights into America’s longest war, in Afghanistan.

    But be careful. This is not a typical book by another soldier (though Caro spent a year in Afghanistan as a combat medic.) Almost every one of those books follows an outline you’d think they issue to servicepeople as they muster out: get energized following 9/11, throw in a boot camp montage and then drop into Iraq or Afghanistan all wide-eyed. The death of a buddy and/or local child changes everything. Wrap it up with some angst and ship it off to the bestseller list.

    Caro instead gives us three distinct but overlapping stories, the first two only lightly fictionalized.

    The first portion of the book is the one soldiers will want to hand to friends who ask “what was it like over there.” Caro captures two of the most common aspects of modern war: endless tension about what might happen next, and endless boredom between occasional acts of horror. The narrator, Specialist Norman Rogers, himself a combat medic, and his small team, drift among America’s archipelago of bases in Afghanistan, at one point setting off on a “mission” to eat Mongolian BBQ at a Forward Operating Base.

    The details are carefully rendered. It’s a travelogue of sorts, but pay attention; scenes that seem to drift past play tightly into the book’s conclusion. One detail disclosed early on is that Rogers is addicted to the morphine he is issued to use as a painkiller on wounded soldiers.

    Caro offers us something of a training sequence in the second part of his book, but with a twist. He lays things bare in a seminal chapter called The Goat School (excerpt). The reference is to a controversial military training technique, in which medics practice on wounded goats (pigs are also used in real life.) This is not PETA-friendly. The animals are shot at close range, and left in the care of would-be medics to treat. About half-way through, the instructor shoots the animal again.

    The final story told in the book is the most compelling. Rogers’ addiction turns him deeper and deeper into the drug, to the point where his hallucinations take over his life, and thus the story. He is guided through his visions by a shaman, appropriately and ironically in the guise of Pat Tillman.

    (Tillman was America’s once-walking propaganda dream. A pro football player making a $3.6 million salary, he gave that all up and volunteered for combat. When he died in Afghanistan, his family was told he’d been killed by enemy fire charging up a hill. After media interest tapered off, the Pentagon notified Tillman’s family he had actually died as a result of friendly fire.)

    Through his drugs and his shaman, Rogers (and author Caro) present a deeply sad meditation on America’s war in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is known as the graveyard of empires, and America’s longest war is held up alongside others who failed earlier: the Greeks, the Mongols, the British and the Soviets. Echoes of the questions many Americans should be asking are present – Why did we invade? 14+ years later why are still occupying? Why do we believe we will win when everyone else failed? Rogers unwinding as a human being mirrors America’s own efforts at war.

    Criticisms are few. The book shifts in time, in narrator and between the character’s world in and out of his morphine haze. The reader must pay careful attention. Some passages meant to show the hurry-up-and-wait nature of Army life may themselves drag a bit.

    But no matter. Old Silk Road is an important addition to post-9/11 war literature. While the message in the hands of others could have been pedantic or whining, Caro is a skilled writer and presents a statement that is not anti-soldier and not anti-American, but clearly anti-war.

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  • Recent Comments

    • Bruce said...


      Wattabout, why do They STILL GO, KNOWING it’s al $ham they’re bloody Breaking AND DYING for?

      11/11/15 9:18 AM | Comment Link

    • jhoover said...


      Searching the internet came across this subject from 1958.
      Looking to today UN and the billions spending here and there we ending with UN run of money and asking for more billions then we hear billions vanished!!
      Let Remember
      Iraq Oil-For-Food Program
      Iraq Reconstruction & Nation Building(don’t for get to take alook to The San Francisco Conference: Delegation of Iraq)
      Afghanistan Reconstruction

      International Asian HighwayThe Asian Highway, a project initiated in 1958 by the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE), aims at modernizing and linking up existing roads into a 34,000 miles network of highways that would span Asia from Turkey and Iraq to the Republic of Viet-Nam, Singapore and Indonesia. The Highway network will service an area of some 2,500,000 square miles with a population of over six hundred million. Priority Route A-I (about 6,500 miles) runs from Saigon through eight countries: The Republic of Viet-Nam, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, India, East and West Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, to the Turkish border, where connections can be made to the highway systems of the Middle East and Europe. Priority Route A-2 (about 7,600 miles) runs from the Iraq border to Singapore, through Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Burma, Thailand and Malaysia, continuing into Indonesia where, after a ferry crossing from Singapore to Djakarta, it will run the whole length of the island to Java. Member governments have already invested large sums in an effort to improve the standards of the roads within their borders, and some have undertaken to eliminate the missing links between them and their neighbours.

      Buses travelling on a section of the Asian Highway in Thailand.

      January 1964.
      01 January 1964
      Photo # 135625

      The San Francisco Conference: Delegation of Iraq
      Delegates of fifty nations met at San Francisco between April 25 and June 26, 1945. Working on the Dumbarton Oaks proposals, the Yalta Agreement, and amendments proposed by various Governments, the Conference agreed upon the Charter of the United Nations and the Statute of the new International Court of Justice. The Charter was passed unanimously and signed by all the representatives. It came into force on October 24, 1945, when China, France, the USSR, the United Kingdom, and the United States and a majority of the other signatories had filed their instruments of ratification.

      11/12/15 12:33 PM | Comment Link

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