Burden of the Desert by Justin Huggler

Burden of the Desert by Justin Huggler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Written by a correspondent of the Iraq war, Burden of the Desert is overflowing with detail which makes the novel wholly believable and that much more thrilling.
Rookie journalist Zoe Temple is determined to become a war correspondent, and when her paper offers her the chance of a brief posting in Baghdad she jumps at the chance. It’s 2003 and the Iraq war has officially been declared over by the American’s, so she is hopeful it will be a gentle introduction to the dangerous life of a correspondent…However, emotions are still running high in Baghdad, with the Iraqi’s feeling very distrustful of the American soldiers and with a small faction of American soldiers behaving monstrously.
Alongside Zoe’s experience are intertwined the stories of Lieutenant Rick Benes and Adel, Mahmoud and Nouri; three Iraqi’s with very different opinions of the occupation.
The character I enjoyed reading the most in this novel was Lieutenant Benes. Benes is brave, kind and above all very human. Unlike the small group of cruel soldiers that appear in the novel, Benes feels great guilt for some of his actions in Baghdad. He’s honest with himself, and it’s refreshing to read an account of a soldier who admits to himself that the thoughts he has about the occupation are not always pretty and in the best interest of the Iraq people. What makes Bene’s a wonderful, brave character is the actions he takes in spite of his inner feelings sometimes.
Adel’s plotline, an Iraqi seeking revenge for his father’s death by any means, is written very sensitively. There is a tendency for Westerner’s to write about Iraqi soldiers fighting against us very negatively, and often with a great deal of bias and sometimes spite. It’s a tricky subject to approach fairly and without upsetting anybody. I believe this is where Huggler’s experience as a correspondent launches the book from “good” to “absolutely phenomenal”. Adel’s journey to revenge is portrayed with great care- at no point does the reader feel his actions are being excused, but at the same time, he remains a very human character and the plotline acts as a real eye-opener as to why some Iraqi’s feel so strongly against the Westerners who “saved” them from oppression only to provide them with a new kind of regime.
At 612 pages long, Burden of the Desert does not appear to be a quick read at first glance. On picking it up I was prepared for a very heavy-going read. However, as soon as I read the first page my opinion changed. I was gripped and looked for any excuse to pick up the book and continue reading. Transfixing, thrilling, tragic, and occasionally light-hearted, Huggler’s first novel is a masterpiece.

This review first appeared on Nudge-books.com and Goodreads, 30th March 2013.

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