Books: The Afghan

I’m not sure which of Frederick Forsyth’s books I read first, nor how many I have read (not nearly all of them). But when I saw a new one, The Afghan, on the audiobooks shelf at the library, I grabbed it. I just finished it today, and despite some shortcomings regarding the plot, it was thoroughly enjoyable to listen to.

Forsyth, like Tom Clancy, fills his novels with a wealth of technical details. I wondered, as I listened, and as I have wondered sometimes when reading (or listening to) Clancy novels, whether terrorists ever get ideas from them. (Wikipediastates that Forsyth did plan a novel that he later dropped, for fear terrorists might try the type of attack he described. After 9/11, he revealed his unused plot: “terrorists hijack a civilian airliner and ram the plane into their intended targets.”)

Some readers complain that there is too much technical detail, but I enjoy it. I also found the background history on Afghanistan fascinating, as Forsyth recounts the political and military developments there over the past three decades. He follows one (fictional) character in particular, showing how a man motivated primarily by love of family and country could become a fanatical member of the Taliban.

The big weakness of the plot is that it depends too much on coincidence to be believable, but Forsyth develops each aspect of the plot so thoroughly that I found myself easily drawn into the story. By exercising willing suspension of disbelief, I was able to imagine that such coincidences did in fact take place. After all, sometimes things do happen that are statistically highly improbable.

Forsyth’s choice of location for the G8 conference, on which the entire plot hinges, is among the less believable elements – and such a thing is subject not to statistics but the judgment of men experienced in such things. But by that point in the book I was more interesting in what the hero of the book would do than in the logic of how the situation had arisen that called upon him for heroic action.

I’ve always liked books about heroes, and that is one reason I like this one. Many readers complain that Forsyth does little character development, and in some cases this would disappoint me also. I’ve mentioned before that I need to be able to care about a character to like the book. But even without deep character development, I was drawn to the heroic nature of the man who becomes “the Afghan.”

It’s a scary world out there, and Forsyth is blunt in portraying the ruthlessness with which the terrorists operate, as well as their advanced use of technology to accomplish their ends. (He also takes care to clarify that it is only a particularly fanatical strain of Wahhabism that breeds these terrorists.) But there are also brave and determined men (and women) out there who are willing to risk everything to stop the terrorists from succeeding.

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