French photographer Didier Lefevre's first trip to Afghanistan took place in 1986, the year I graduated high school and joined the US Army. The personal connection is important to me, I guess, because my memories of that time added something to the narrative as I read. The book is a memoir of Lefevre's experience accompanying doctors who entered the war zone. Lefevre's photographs and his account of the trip, combined with panels of illustration by Emmanuel Guibert and Frederic Lemercier, make this memoir a graphic "novel".
Lefevre is not familiar with Afghanistan or even the politics of the war, so his initiation into the surroundings is interesting, amusing, and even sometimes exasperating. At times, I wanted to "enter the heads" of the doctors instead, because they were professionals with amazing skills and admirable knowledge of Afghanistan and its people.
If you are looking for an action packed account of war, this is not it. You definitely get a sense of war's brutality, but Lefevre does not experience combat. It's refreshing, actually, to witness the doctors, the lines of casualties, and the triumphants and tribulations of practicing medicine in a "sanitary wasteland". If you know someone who longs for adventure and thinks the conventional, mundane slog of a military unit might be the place for it, this book may convince them to take up something more heroic: medicine.
The story takes its most exciting turn when Lefevre decides to make the return journey to Pakistan without the doctors. He survives. Barely. Despite the weather in high mountain passes and the vagaries of who you encounter and what happens when you are alone and can't even speak the language. Now that's what my army buddies used to call "hardcore".