Occasionally, and not often, a book can be written with such intensity, competence and integrity that it cuts through the ether and, even after being finished and set aside on a table or bookshelf, it continues to scream at you. This book cannot be easily forgotten or marked off a “to read” list. This book is not something you mention casually during a conversation at a bar with “oh yeah, I think I read that.” This book never stays in a place long enough to gather the dust those other novels in the collection have. It demands to be read and pondered upon.
Although many people read these books, many people also do not. It’s too heavy. This isn’t Harry Potter, Tom Clancy or another addition to the Ludlum Bourne bonanza. This isn’t Three cups of tea or some Paulo Coelho lecture on things we all know inside anyway. This is a serious book and it is written seriously and comes into existence with a BANG when the proper components all coalesce and converge on one point.
The necessary properties a book like this requires makes it even more unlikely to be written. A tragedy. A war. Someone willing to wade into the fire, disappear beneath it then come back and have the ability, somehow, to convey to the rest of us what went on. Someone that knows words can forge realities and they can change lives.
Anthony Loyd is a man who disappeared into the black, one of the blackest moments in recent history, and came back with an astonishing book not only about the realities and tragedy of the conflict in Yugoslavia, but also the well-known yet often under represented addiction to and love of a very selfish mistress. War.
After a time in the army in Britain, Loyd got a post-graduates degree (despite not being a graduate) in photo journalism. Using this and nothing else, he convinced himself that his place was where-ever the war was and off he went to Yugoslavia.
Living with a local family, he picked up more and more of the language and other requisite war-zone survival skills: Knowing where the snipers are, bribing check point guards with cigarettes and diving shamelessly for cover when artillery is coming in. He stayed for the duration of the war and “My War gone by, I miss it so” is his memoir about the war, its horror (a term not even fit to describe what Loyd delivers, dripping and still warm, on a silver platter) and it’s attraction.
This book has it all. The Kalashnikov culture and the crazily dressed “freedom fighters.” The mutilated children and apathetic security force commanders. The alcoholic reporters and crippled mercenaries. The terror of the void and a man willing to try to tell you what he saw.
Included in the book are the few weeks in which Loyd is sent to Chechnya to cover the fall of Grozny. The tales from this part of his life are simply horrific.
Derbentskaya Street, Grozny. We stumbled out into the white desolation and ran slap into a thickset woman muffled in a coat held together by a string belt. She was shrieking hysterically, unhinged with rage, shock and grief. In one hand she brandished an awkward looking club. It took me a few seconds to realize it was the severed leg of a man.
With her left hand she tugged frantically at a sledge. On it lay the chopped bloody bundle of a corpse. Through some sacking, the remaining leg dragged a scarlet wake in the snow.
Anthony Loyd’s book is one powerful slap in the face after another. It paints a very grim picture of us as a whole, but says something intriguing and possibly meaningful about us as individuals.