At twenty-one, Melissa Burch is an aspiring young filmmaker and war correspondent. It's 1982, and she takes an assignment to go into Afghanistan to film the mujahadeen fighting the invading Soviet troops. It's hard, dangerous trip, and she finds herself making the trip into the mountains as the only woman with a small troop of mujahadeen. That wasn't the plan; Maria, the more experienced woman who arranged this and was supposed to be traveling with them backs out at the last moment. She's decided that one more trip into the Afghan war zone is just pushing her luck too much.
Burch persists, and develops a real camaraderie with the troop. Yet when she winds up filming footage that gets edited to combine real combat with an essentially staged attack on an already-downed helicopter to make a CBS report that she believes doesn't represent the truth of the conflict, she feels frustrated and used.
Nevertheless, she learns a lot about her ability to face hardship and danger, and it's the start of a journey of personal growth. It's also not her last, longest, or hardest trip into Afghanistan.
Back at home in the US, we follow her professional struggles as well as her family troubles. Her parents are divorced, and her mother drinks while her father has remarried and become a Buddhist--which sometimes has the effect of making him seem a bit distant and detached. She tries to balance her own needs with the guilt she feels for having left her younger brother and sister to cope with their mother on their own. And hardly a year has gone by before she's on her way back into Afghanistan, this time with the hopeful intention of filming a truce between one major mujahadeen commander and the Soviets, showing it's possible and, she imagines, influencing global policy.
It's a frustrating, disillusioning, and yet enlightening journey. She has harrowing experiences and unexpected joys and successes. And when she is home again, there's both more enlightenment and more harrowing emotional experiences.
There were times I wanted to shake Burch and tell her both to be less of a patsy, and to stop using others. Yet a great deal of that is because she's trying hard to be painfully honest about her mistakes and failures as well as her successes, both personal and professional. In the end, she comes out the other side a stronger, better person.
I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.