Prince of Afghanistan by Louis Nowra
Allen & Unwin, 2015. ISBN 9781743314821
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. War, Afghanistan, Animals, Survival. When dog handler, Casey, is killed in the escape after the rescue of three kidnapped doctors in Taliban held Afghanistan, Mark is the only survivor of the attack and is left with Casey's injured dog, Prince. The first helicopter was able to get away with the rescued people, but his helicopter is hit by a rocket and the drones would have beamed back that explosion, leaving people to conclude there were no survivors. Mark and the now deaf Prince are on their own.
So begins an adventure like no other, heart in the mouth, gut wrenching and action packed, the reader sees Afghanistan through the eyes of an injured soldier trying desperately to get back to safety through villages which may or may not be helpful. All the while he must learn about the dog, try to remember some of the things Casey told him about his training and work out how he can make his instructions known to the dog.
As their relationship deepens, Mark moves through this amazing environment, which like that in Nowra's Into the Forest, is ever present, enveloping and at times overwhelming. Five days trekking across mountains and plains, usually at night to avoid being seen, jostling with goats on a high track, avoiding a pair of Taliban on a motorbike, seeing women at the waterhole, finding water when they can, eating raw goat, all make this place incredibly real to the reader. Nowra does not stint in talking about the opium trade or use of marijuana both by Mark as a young man and by the troops in the war zone. The dependence of the village people on growing the opium poppy is shown with sympathy, as this terrible landscape has seen countless generations of invaders across its borders.
Based on much research into Australia's role in Afghanistan, this story is highly suited for readers in middle secondary who crave something more. And at a time when Australia is commemorating its involvement in World War One, it is salutary to perhaps contemplate Mark's father's words, Only the dead have seen the end of war (Plato).