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Books of War: A Failed State by Andrew Coussens

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In reflection of the first World War, All is Quiet on the Western Front uses fiction to depict the grim reality of trench and chemical warfare at the time. In it, the ahistorical characters, who could very easily be pseudonyms for real people, drag the reader across battlefields, but more importantly, through the minds of those fighting. In A Failed State, Andrew Coussens performs a similar task for our modern conflict, diverging from the simple formula of “secret agent/operator stops bomb threat/terror attack/assassination attempt.” The antagonist is in the room the whole time.

Some books are just not written for the general audience, but instead, serve as a tribute to those in the know. In this way, A Failed State is a novel written to a specific, and rarely recognized group of people who's participation in the recent conflicts rarely gets noticed. This comes out in the book as terms, titles, and norms within the pages do not hold the hand of the reader. The clarifying and reiterating components come across as reminders to those who once lived lives akin to the main character.

In the same way that All is Quiet on the Western Front distinguishes itself from basic literature thought it's plot, the climax of A Failed State differs from the simple but overused trope of climactic confrontation between protagonist and antagonist. The war is the context, and the story, but not the whole picture.

Interested in not only writing about the political and social reality of war in the 21st century, Coussens pulls no punches in the tension of an individual torn between two worlds. The rift between those who have seen war, and those who have only ever encountered peace seems insurmountable for some. Even in peacetime, society dreams of war in its literature and art. While we pay plenty of attention to how a nation may perceive war, its not the same for those who are in it.

A Failed State Novel

A Failed State takes the reader through the war-torn streets of Afghanistan, dropping subtle nods to those who have been there. It denies the reader any satisfaction of assuming over-stereotyped tropes. Aware of the geopolitics imbedded in the fictional events, a line is drawn between people who actually know, and those who think they know. There's no cheap antihero to ask morally ambiguous questions. Rather, the protagonist, with all their shortcomings, addresses the ethics of their situation and choices as a willing participant.

Andrew Coussens' A Failed State belongs on bookshelves somewhere between Jack Carr's The Terminal List, and My War Gone By I Miss It So by Anthony Loyd. Technically fiction, the reader will have to sort out which parts came from personal experience, a historical account, or the imagination. And for those who've been there, that's one of the best parts. 

A Failed State by Andrew Coussens

Pages: 189
MSRP: $25 (Hardcover)

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