Journalist and author Sebastian Junger makes a welcome new foray into the world of thriller reportage with Fire, the eagerly anticipated follow-up to his international bestseller The Perfect Storm. Drawn in part, as with his debut title, from an unpublished book on dangerous jobs, Fire burns with the desire to experience adventure, and to push beyond everyday parameters. For some, Junger's quest may resemble "thrill junky" day-trips in other people's nightmares, such as when he visits the hellish conflicts in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, or Afghanistan (in watching the struggles of Ahmad Shah Massoud against the Taliban, he delivers a chilling prequel to world events at the time of the book's publication). However, in a crowded marketplace, his disciplined accounts of the chaotic, volatile brutality of these killing fields ripple with taut expression, nourished by history and personal experience.
The opening account, describing the work of American forest wildfire fighters, presents a vivid if sometimes over-detailed image of a perennial concern, while Junger's trip to the Caribbean to meet a veteran from an ancient whaling community is well-poised, covering similar territory to Tim Severin's In Search of Moby Dick. An account of Western hostages in Kashmir is expertly crafted, but the book's centrepiece, and most developed account, is a long piece of journalism undertaken with Scott Anderson for Harper's Magazine on the partition of Cyprus. Having tossed a coin to decide who went to the Turkish Northern Cyprus and who to the Greek side, the Republic of Cyprus, they observe what has become a bitter, if fairly uneventful, political stalemate. In many ways, Cyprus epitomises a depressing outcome from Junger's travels, which is that opposition and aggression does seem to have an inherent hold on many of the world's communities, and especially their men.
Junger may lack Jon Krakauer's suspenseful control, but he possesses a tentacular grasp of specifics and an acute awareness of the warped dynamics of tragedy for journalists worldwide. While he basically forbears interior exploration on some of the questions thrown up by his adventures--such as the deep-felt, still prevalent need for heroes--his gritty dispatches guarantee compelling reading, and perhaps provoke, rather than supply, a quest for answers. --David Vincent [via]