Simply amazing. This book misled the hell out of me.
AK Dawson classifies his book as “…a war novel, a tale of action and adventure, a fictional road trip and – deep in its dark heart – a certain kind of love story.” Well yes, yes it is but it is also so much more than that.
Thomas Green is only 18. He has grown up in South Africa in the white section of an upper, middle-class neighborhood. He doesn’t consider himself racist but more of a Pacifist until he is conscripted in to the South African Defense Force. Anti-Apartheid protests and clashes are in full swing and South Africa is pulling out of Angola, reluctantly. Thomas wants to be an artist and seems to have ignored the political climate in Africa up to joining the SADF.
For those of you who didn’t grow up during the South African Apartheid years which were, (legislated), 1948 through 1994, the government of South Africa imposed a policy of racial segregation. The civil rights of ‘non-whites’ were stripped. Citizenship of blacks was revoked. Beaches, neighborhoods, restaurants, etc. were segregated. I.D. cards were enforced and white supremacy was given a sort of entitlement. In 1970 voting rights were stripped as well. With the help of Cuba and Russia, Angola gained independence in 1975 which added to the unrest and sparked the South African Border War.
Note: I am not an historian so I encourage readers to check out Wikipedia. Apartheid is still a shadow over South Africa despite its repeal in 1994.
Thomas is partnered with Skeletor, another 18 yr old who out-ranks him. They are assigned to watch the border of Angola for terrorists. Eventually they spot a young black man running toward them. Thomas sees that this man doesn’t seem to be carrying any weapons and in fact seems to be signaling to them. Despite Thomas’s warnings, Skeletor happily shoots the man. When they arrive at their base they are congratulated by their CO and given a special mission in to Angola to deliver a sensitive message to a Colonel Stebbing who is camped there with troops illegally. Told that the message is too sensitive for radio relay, the young men are told to enter Angola as English tourists. Since neither knows how to drive, their CO pulls a black, conscripted soldier, Maxwell, from his regular duties to drive them in.
What follows is a journey of self-discovery and madness for Thomas. He is stuck riding in between Maxwell and Skeletor in a cramped, hot, beat up truck and any attempt Thomas makes to lighten the mood is rebuffed. Skeletor has bought the National Party line completely and treats Maxwell like a servant. Skeletor also looks down on Thomas and abuses him verbally and physically. Both men seem indifferent to Thomas. Hoping to initiate a friendly alliance with Maxwell, Thomas tries several times to start a conversation and although Maxwell has cause to feel bitter toward Skeletor, he has no respect for Thomas as he feels South Africans like him only get in the way and add to the problems facing the country.
Feeling left out and confused, Thomas remembers a pink envelope he received just the day before. Having no one special at home and receiving no letters before, Thomas has kept the un-opened letter in his pocket to savor. Deciding to read it during a quick stop he discovers it’s from a girl he met months prior who tells of her feelings for him and her desire for him to contact her. Although the letter had been detained by three months, Thomas is elated to have found a special girl waiting for him after all. Quickly, this letter has become a talisman to him. He now has hope and love. He is giddy and tries unsuccessfully to hide it from his tormentor. Skeletor spends most of the trip trying to get details of this girl from Thomas and taunting him over it. There is no way Thomas will share this special hope with him.
Things get exceedingly worse as the young men travel through a very dangerous country; all are unfamiliar with the territory and eventually end up getting lost. Once they finally arrive at Colonel Stebbing’s camp they are in for a surprise and given a sealed crate to take back.
So many things go wrong from here and it would be criminal of me to spoil it by saying too much but I do have to say that AK Dawson does a brilliant job characterizing these three men and their emotional travails. The author is subtle enough to allow the story to flow while just under the surface of the tale tragedy, awareness, hopelessness and hope are surrounding you. Many social, ethical and political issues are tackled effortlessly in this story. Racism, brutality, loyalty, corruption, youth, love and naiveté. I was engrossed from page one and am entirely grateful for the experience.
Book Summary: The year is 1988.
Eighteen-year-old Thomas Green, weed smoker and would-be artist, has been plucked from his comfortable, suburban existence in apartheid South Africa and thrown onto the frontline of his country’s war against what it sees as terrorism.
As a conscript in the South African Defence Force, it’s Thomas’s job to watch the hot, sandy border for signs of the mysterious ‘red menace’.
There are no bars nearby, no art galleries, no cinemas and no air-conditioned shopping malls. Worst of all, there are no lithe young ladies willing to pose nude for an eager painter-in-training. What Thomas has found in plentiful supply are sand dunes, barbwire fences and landmines. He may as well have landed in hell.
When a man approaches on foot from Angola, the place where the terrorists are said to come from, Thomas discovers that life can still get a whole lot worse.
MiG-23 Broke my Heart is a war novel, a tale of action and adventure, a fictional road trip and – deep in its dark heart – a certain kind of love story.
Please be advised that the novel contains violence, hard-biting humour and sensitive subject matter that some readers may find disturbing.
This is a full-length novel, which in paperback form would be about two hundred and fifty pages.