“The Tender Soldier” looks at US military in Afghanistan; “Bleeding Edge” is another winner from Thomas Pynchon

October 5, 2013 


The Tender Soldier: A True Story of War and Sacrifice

Vanessa M. Gezari, Simon & Schuster, 368 pages

Vanessa M. Gezari, a journalist who teaches writing and war reporting at the University of Michigan, set out to chronicle the work of a little-known project involving teams of social scientists working as battlefield consultants to the military in Afghanistan.

The program developed by the Pentagon was called the Human Terrain System. The aim was to pair soldiers and scholars in an attempt to better understand the complexities of an Afghan tribal culture, about which U.S. and other NATO military commanders knew very little.

As the author writes: The program was supposed to herald “a more culturally conscious way of war.”

Blending strong in-depth reporting with a narrative writing that lets readers experience life in the war-torn nation, Gezari has written a military thriller, but also much more, as she tells the social scientists’ story.

David Tarrant, Dallas Morning News


Bleeding Edge

Thomas Pynchon, Penguin, 296 pages

Thomas Pynchon’s fabulously entertaining new novel begins on New York’s Upper West Side during the first day of spring. Maxine Tarnow is walking her two boys to school. The sun shines through clusters of pear blossoms, filling the world with light.

This being Pynchon and the year being 2001, the good times don’t last. Long before the towers come tumbling down just past the novel’s midway point, we’ve descended into an underworld featuring Russian gangsters, an Italian mobster, a foot fetishist, an embezzler and Maxine herself, who is a decertified fraud examiner running an outfit called Tail ’Em and Nail ’Em.

And these are among the good guys.

Maxine’s sleuthing uncovers a money trail leading from high-tech start-ups in New York’s Silicon Alley to a shady Dubai-based organization that may have links to terrorists or the CIA. Or both.

New York itself is being strangled as the yuppies Pynchon loves to hate transform its jumbled history into “multiplexes and malls and big-box stores.”

What’s spirited and untamed at the “bleeding edge” of the Internet gets corralled and regimented at an accelerating pace in the climate of fear engineered by Sept. 11, 2001.

But no matter how ruthless, every supposedly all-encompassing system has holes, allowing a motley crew of resisters – dropouts, techno-anarchists and old-fashioned lefties – to strike a blow for freedom.

Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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