You know those horror movies where the bad guy never seems to die? Where the monstrous villain is struck down only to come back to life and continue to hunt down its victims? Tom Young‘s “The Mullah’s Storm” uses this very same formula to keep you reading (or listening) to the story until its very end. You don’t want to stop and not know what is going to happen next to Major Parson and Master Sergeant Gold.
Trust me, you’ll keep turning the pages or sitting in your car to listen to the next chapter.
I first heard the audio version of “The Mullah’s Storm” by Tom Young on my way home one very cold December evening. Book Radio on Sirius XM had the first couple of chapters over several evenings, so I was able to get the gist of the book and what it was all about. I found it captivating and enveloping since the weather as I drove was just as cold and just as treacherous as the weather throughout the narrative in the book. Several times as I listened, I wondered if I would be able to get home should my Jeep break down in the middle of nowhere and the weather outside was a blizzard with temperatures in the negatives.
The narrative is simple yet elegant. Mr. Young uses terminology that any reader can understand while mixing in military jargon to make it more authentic. Of course, he doesn’t leave you wondering what an “MRE” or an “authenticator code” is. He explains it to you as he moves the story forward. And, boy, does the story move.
The story opens with an attack on a transport plane that is carrying a mullah (an Islamic religious man or leader) from a base in Afghanistan to an unknown destination. As the plane is ascending, it is attacked. The crew is forced to make a hard landing in the middle of some very rough terrain in the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan with some rough weather moving in. This is only the beginning of the story and it is enough to be a story all in itself.
Unable to get a rescue party to their location, Major Parson and Sergeant Gold take the mullah with them in order to escape enemies approaching on the plane. They are to continue the mission of eventually delivering the mullah to someone who can interrogate him about terrorist plots. Over the next several days, they must contend with freezing temperatures, soaked and freezing clothes, lack of food, lack of sleep, and an enemy that is hunting them down. Along the way, they get to see the horrors of the war in Afghanistan and what man is capable of doing to mankind.
Through the thoughts of his main character, Major Parson, Mr. Young asks some very poignant questions about human nature in the midst of war. Do we hate the enemy and all that it represents? Or do we hate the war that made enemies out of people who would otherwise leave us alone? Most important, can we forgive someone who has done us great harm or someone who looks, talks, and acts like the person that did us great harm? These are some interesting musings that Major Parson has as his journey takes him from the warm, comfortable job of flight navigator to the exhausting and quite dirty job of foot soldier.
The character of Sergeant Gold is an interesting addition to the story. She is a woman, an interpreter, and she gets thrust to the front lines of the war. Her character was made very relevant to me as I heard the recent news of the lifting of a centuries-old ban of allowing women to serve in combat in the US Armed Forces. She keeps pace with Parson at the beginning of the story, and with the men that join them in the middle. Then she caps it off by fighting along those men as they storm the enemy time and time again.
Hats off to Mr. Young for very possibly inspiring little girls everywhere to serve our country and be warriors.
Okay, so back to the “resurrecting villain” I was talking about. As the story progresses, Parson and Gold encounter Afghan insurgents time and time again. Sure, they kill some of them, but the main threat continues. In fact, they have to protect the very man, the mullah, who inspires the violence they are facing. As a result, the enemy has many faces, many heads, and it is difficult to kill throughout the narrative. Even at the end, in the very final scene of the book, the enemy is very much alive, reflecting the current state of things in the War on Terror.
I’ve never served in armed combat, and I pray to God that I never do. I can’t see myself going through the situations posed by “The Mullah’s Storm” and coming out any kind of mentally stable afterward. That’s the thing about this book: It’s based events in real life. It narrates to you what soldiers in the Hindu Kush go through day after day to hunt down people who would do us harm while we sleep warm and comfortable back in the States. And it does a heck of a job.
(You don’t have to take just my word for it. Here’s another review of the book by NPR commentator Alan Cheuse.)