On the shelf: ‘The Forever War’ by Dexter Filkins

By Amy Cochran

Grand Rapids Public Library, Seymour Branch


The prologue sets us down in a Falluja street in 2004 with an invading Marine unit. All is chaos, Marines are falling, snipers are everywhere and it isn’t clear who is enemy or friend until they start shooting. New York Times correspondent Dexter Filkins doesn’t pull any punches in his book The Forever War, an extraordinarily haunting account of his experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq. He highlights what a mad mess everything was—from the rise of the Taliban in 1998 to the deterioration of Iraq into civil war in less than three years.


Filkins has written a collection of in-the-moment vignettes loosely organized by date. From a story on the Taliban court of justice to an exploration of the history of torture and murder in Iraq, he profiles an astonishing number of individuals and situations that illuminate the bigger picture of war in the region. In Iraq in particular, we meet individuals who try to hold back chaos, but fail over and over again when up against their neighbors’ overwhelming urge for revenge of past wrongs. These stories effectively demonstrate how the euphoric early days after the fall of Saddam Hussein could deteriorate into widespread violence and divisiveness.


Filkins leaves political views and history lessons out of his narrative and lets the situations speak for themselves. The personal Iraqi and American experiences are by turns horrifying and hopeful. Give yourself plenty of time to read this powerful book, to ponder and digest and recuperate before moving to the next chapter.