War is immense. Such a feeling is hard to comprehend for Americans at home where war is not part of their everyday life. It’s also a difficult concept for Doc, the protagonist in Brandon Caro’s Old Silk Road, who has a colossal problem: he is addicted to opiates, a problem perhaps that is more part of the typical American experience than warfare on American soil is.
In an effort to reconcile the death of his father, Norman “Doc” Rogers enlists in the military and is removed from his life in the United States to that of a medical soldier in Afghanistan. Doc’s unit is in Afghanistan to train Afghan soldiers to defend and stand up for themselves. Against the dry and hot landscape, Doc’s focus is to save lives and to keep his addiction under wraps. However Doc is often forced to choose between exposing his secret dependency on drugs and saving a person. The weight of war compounded with that of addiction is the story of this American soldier.
From the beginning, Caro has the ability to pull the reader into the novel’s plot. An explosion occurs. A burning Humvee with trapped men inside propels Doc to try to rescue them without success. Then, the first instance of injecting opiates, a 10 milligram auto-injector syringe filled with morphine sulfate, is administered, not to a U.S. soldier, but to a young boy with a gun shot wound in his left arm with an abdominal evisceration. It would be one of many injections to come throughout the novel. With each injection, the reader can be sure to experience many of the blissful-yet-painful and ultimately disorienting symptoms as Doc does.
The style of language is readily accessible to all readers. The only time readers might possibly get lost is within the plot. However, it could be argued that that is the intention by Caro himself. While the novel is fiction, the novel occasionally calls for the reader to disengage with the text and to look outside to the real world. Or in the same way, the text can read as nonfiction due to the concurrent facts made known in Caro’s biography on the inside jacket of the cover.
The reader will do well to pay attention to every aspect of the book. Ultimately, Caro is obviously playing with reality from the theme of Doc’s addiction to opiates to the plot twists that stack up on each other at the end. Perhaps the most interesting and condemning choice Caro chose to do in telling this American account, was writing in the first person. While on the one hand, the reader is exposed to the many sensations Doc endures. On the other hand, the reader is left, by the novel’s end, suspended in a limbo without much more meaning other than the realization that some of the events in the book may not have taken place, might not have been experienced by Doc, except in his mind.
Conversely, the plot was the most captivating and illustrates what it is like to be stationed overseas. The military life is certainly like a foreign land, as foreign as the land of Afghanistan. While war has been written about many times over, this is a new perspective from the generation that grew amid the onset of terrorism in America.
Full Disclosure: San Antonio Book Festival Executive Director Katy Flato sits on the Rivard Report board of directors. Learn more here.
Top image: Old Silk Road was written by Brandon Caro. Photo courtesy of Electric Literature.