"There be dragons,
but there should be Nothing."
I knew going into this that it was going to be a rough ride, this book is much beloved and because of that it is almost impossible to go into it without at least having a vague idea of what's to come. I knew three things when I started 'Soldiers'.
1) Dan and Vadim's relationship is born due to a violent rape perpetrated by Vadim
2) As retribution for this rape Dan eventually tortures Vadim
3) That somehow, someway these two men would move from enemies to lovers
Those three things were really just the tip of a very big ice-burg when it comes to this book and these men.
Now even with all the positive reviews and the love that people have for Vadim and Dan I have to say I was sceptical. I really didn't see how such acts of violence could ever be overcome. The level of hate that consumed Dan was palpable and there seemed to be a rage in Vadim that was bottomless. It didn't seem possible that two people so lost, angry and flawed could ever find any kind of peace apart, never mind together.
I was born in 1982. 3 years after the Soviet war in Afghanistan began, owing to this and the fact that it was not a global war, I had little to no knowledge of said war going into this book. The only things I really knew? Russia was involved in a war in Afghanistan during the 80's and that ironically (due to later events that we are all too familiar with) the US and UK aided the Mujahideen during this time. That was it. In fact I am ashamed to say that the only real knowledge I had of Afghanistan as a country before this book were the pictures I saw on the news and a heartbreaking awareness that a war that seems never-ending and is claiming the lives of far too many men and women is being fought there. I wasn't aware of it's beauty, I wasn't aware how harsh the climate was and I wasn't aware of the vastness, danger and wonder of its mountains. There are three main characters in this book. Dan, Vadim and Afghanistan. Whenever Dan and Vadim left Afghanistan I felt an inexplicable sense of loss. For better or worse Afghanistan, its mountains, Kabul and an ever so important teashop there was a part of them and their relationship, the words used to describe the country describe the men.
In the beginning I couldn't see a way to ever like a person like Vadim, his presence made me angry from the start, he was a stereotype of the young Soviet soldier who took what he wanted and consequences be damned. He was so full of rage and his thirst for power was so all consuming he couldn't see past it. My heart went out to Dan, the helplessness he experienced was difficult to witness especially for a man to whom power was also so important. Then in the mountains the tables turned. I willed Vadim to feel and express remorse because once he did I thought it would be okay for me to feel some pity for him at the hands of Dan. I couldn't feel for him unless he showed some remorse though, because in my mind this is how rapists should be treated. They deserve to be tortured, they take something that is not theirs to take, they take will and power so those things should also be taken from them. Vadim did not show remorse. He in fact never shows it and yet I couldn't stop myself from wanting Dan to stop. For feeling pity for Vadim. For wanting the pain that was being inflicted to stop. Somehow I overcame what Vadim did. I cannot explain how. I truly do not know. I just know that through the journey I took with Dan and Vadim I began to see something so much more than rape and torture. Two deeply flawed and damaged human beings find something that is so extraordinary there is no name to give it. The word 'Love' does not do it justice.
"Home. His only home. An ‘enemy’ in a wilderness of insanity."
There were many hard limits for me in this book, a lot of things made me deeply uncomfortable and yet none of it took from the story or felt like it was being added for the soul purpose of shocking the reader, it only added to it. I for one think that is an amazing achievement. I applaud the authors for their ability to incorporate shocking and unpleasant subject matters and make them work. I also wish to thank them for giving me Dan and Vadim.
This book has left me in pain. My heart aches and I feel utterly bereft and helpless. These men overcame so much throughout this story, they overcame mistakes they refused to acknowledge, atone to or even discuss. They overcame rage and anger, fear, loss and pain. They are soldiers, they are warriors. Yet when it comes down to it they are helpless and cannot overcome politics and the might of countries caught in a game that has no use for desire, no place for passion and no care for love.
"No one else, only his Russian, the darkness and light, hatred and love. Mirrors of each other; each the same, and both the opposite."
If you have not read this book I urge you to do so, it is not an easy read and not always a pleasant read but there is beauty to be found here, a beauty that is not often seen and it is stunning, it is gut wrenching and it feels real.
Throughout reading this two things kept coming to mind. Johnny Cash singing 'Hurt' and Ludwig van Beethoven's 'Immortal Beloved' letters. I think Beethoven's sign-off is the most fitting end.
“Be calm - love me - today - yesterday - what tearful longings for you - you - you - my life - my all - farewell. Oh continue to love me - never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved.