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War Junkie Paperback – 5 Aug 2002
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An adrenalin-fuelled, white-knuckle ride through the worst places on earth. Soon after starting work as an ITN cameraman, Jon Steele began to feel strangely at home in the kind of places ordinary people get evacuated from. Before long, he was living for the rush which comes as bullets fly past your head and bombs explode at your feet.
An adrenalin-fuelled, white-knuckle ride through the worst places on earth... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
If there is anything i would say its that theres not a piece at the end telling us of what Jon Steele, the author, is up to these days. It just stops and your left with a hole, with a lot of 'what abouts..'...but then maybe thats the point.
Also it would have been nice to have a few photos in the middle of the book..not to show the devestation, its described in detail, but just to put a few faces to the many people in the book...i have done a check on the net and still cant find a picture of Jon himself! A trival, but it would have been nice.
Five stars mate.
I have read many books by journalists but was in no way prepared for the world Jon Steele dragged me into. That is exactly the feeling. He pulls the reader into his camera and makes you see the world of war through his eyes. It is a grim world of suffering and pain. Unsanatised and uncensored. The reader can smell blood on the pages of this book. The pace from the beginning is like a bullet that keeps gaining speed, till it ricochets and catches Steele between the eyes.
He becomes part of the wreckage of war himself. The book is an almost surreal account of what happens to a man who finds himself enjoying the buzz of danger. When flesh and blood human beings are reduced to nothing more than pictures he films and then disregards and forgets, till they return to haunt him. At times it feels he is asking for forgiveness, but the truth is, Jon Steele is begging the reader to notice the faceless and nameless humans we see suffering on our televisions screens.
Steele writes in in the style of a novel. The men and women he works with are not presented in the usual style of nonfiction factoids. The readers comes to know them as genuine people with deep feelings and often funny quirks. And though Steele writes in a gonzo style, his work shows a keen influence of some of the greatest American writers. Hemingway, Faulkner and the current master of American letters, Cormac McCarthy. Mostly I had the feeling Steele was reworking Mark Twain's 'Huckleberry Finn'. A boy's adventure that leads him into lands of horror and fear. Act one is full of bravado. A revolution in Sokhumi and the civil war in Boris Yeltsin's Moscow streets both read like he is pretending to live in an action movie with himself desperatly wanting to be the good guy hero.
I wonder how many comic books he read as a boy. These chapters are full of Pows and Bangs. But it's only a trick. He draws you into his world with a wink and a smile. Slowly and too late, the reader finds himself trapped in a suffocating tension. At times it's almost too much to bear.
Then, as if pulling another literary trick out of the hat, the reader finds himself crossing Russia on the trans-Siberian Express. One the surface, a humorous intermission, but the passage gives Steele the opportunity to strech his style in mystical fashion. I particullary enjoyed the story of the ice fisherman on the frozen Sea of Japan. I could see the colour of the sky and feel the cold. It also reveals some of the darker secrets driving Jon Steele back to the danger zone. The curtain rises on act two, and the reader feels something terrible is about to happen. It does, in Africa. The Rwandan genocide of 1993, in which nearly one million people were murdered with clubs and machetes in a matter of weeks, gives Steele the opportunity to display a writing brilliance rarely matched in the world of non-fiction I defy anyone to read the two Kigali chapters and not find themselves sweating with fear. The last of the Africa chapters is set in Goma where Jon Steele finds himself in the middle of tens of thousands of Hutu men, women and children dying of cholera, is the most emotionally gripping account of one man's walk through a man made hell I have ever read.
I will never see another news story of human suffering in the same way again. Oddly enough, I don't think television itself can capture such horror as well as Steele did in this chapter. I found myself in tears. Steels's portrait of General Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian General who tried to stop the killing, is a wonderful tribute to a brave man who suffered his own nervous breakdown and later wrote his own book 'Shaking Hands with the Devil'. A powerful read in its own right.
The chapter, 'Last Shot'is a quick trip to Sniper Ally in Sarajevo. The place where a young girl is gunned down by a Serb sniper. It would be wrong to tell too much here. I'll simply say it is on 'a Sarajevo back street' where Jon Steele learns the terrible truth of the world he jumped into so freely, looking for adventure.
There is a Hollywood feel at the end of the book. Very much as in Charles Dickens 'A Tale of Two Cities.' One has the feeling Steele was asked to tag on an epilogue to help the reader up from the trenches, in the same way Dickens was asked to add the final, 'It as a far better thing I do' speech after the hanging scene. The publishers thought it too morbid.
But if that was the case, it was Steele who had the better of the publishers. The killing of a boy stone thrower in an Israeli Palestinain clash on Jerusalem's Via Dolorosa is almost a warning of the terrible wars to come in the Middle East. The wars that have spread to throughout the world and our very own streets.
I telephoned ITN, the television company Jon Steele worked for. I wanted to talk about the book. I was told Jon Steele resigned from ITN at the beginning of the Iraq War. They would not tell me the reasons for his resignation. I may have a clue. The same BBC program mention Terry Llyod, the ITN reporter killed at the beginning of the war along with two of his crew. The chapter in Sarajevo has Steele teamed up with Terry Llyod. It's obvious from the book they were friends and had affection for one another. Perhaps it was the death of a friend that finally made him give up his world of war. I asked where Steele might be, they did not know. As I said, one can only hope he is somewhere safe and writing another book.
I first saw the book in a hotel bookshop in Amman, Jordan when I was coming out of Baghdad a few months ago on a tour of close protection duty with a private security firm. I thought about buying it but went for Dan Brown instead. (note to Dan: 'Angels and Demons' is complete bullocks.) I met some mates in the bar for a few pints. One of my mates said he had bought 'War Junkie' in the book shop that day and spent the afternoon in his room reading it. I asked him how he liked it and he rolled his eyes. 'Crap, is it?' I asked. My mate said just the opposite. Couldn't put it down it was so bloody real. Felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand right up in some places.
The next day I went to the bookshop to get my own copy and learned it was sold out. The clerk said the last three were sold the day before but more would be coming in a week. He also told me the book was the best selling English language book in Jordan. After reading it, I'm not surprised. I can imagine people like me coming in and out of Iraq seeing the title 'War Junkie' on the bookshelf and having the urge to read it.
Back home in the UK I did read a bit of the book on Amazon and ordered it. I've had a long career in the military and been involved in a few conflicts and I can tell you I have never read an account of war that is so gut wrenchingly real. What Steele lacks in knowledge of weapons systems and tatics, he makes up for in the emotional impact of war. Today there are lots of books about war on the shelves thanks to the buggering job in Iraq, I've read most of them. None of them come close to capturing the emotional impact of war like War Junkie. I think that's what makes the book so bloody good. It isn't the specific conflicts or time of Steele's story, because they all have the feel of a universal truth about war, any war, no matter the year. There are the generals and the troops following the orders of political fools and villans. On the bottom of the pile are the innocent people caught in the middle, 'like shadows' Steele calls them in the first chapter. This is the power of War Junkie. One reads it knows that the images of faces and broken lives described in War Junkie are still there in Iraq, Sierra Loene, Darfur. The emotions captures in 'War Junkie' fit every other war in the world because in the end all wars are the same. Steele may have been a cameraman but the fact is his emotions in the heat of battle and his reactions to the death of innocent people are the same as those of a soldier in the field. His struggles with post combat stress syndrome are the same as those being endured by soldiers and civilians in Iraq this very day.
I've read the Amazon customer reviews and have something to add to the mystery of Jon Steele's whereabouts. The clerk of the bookshop said he was once in the hotel's Mexican bar with his Jordanian wife who is rather wellknown in Amman. She came into the shop to buy a pack of fags and saw the book on the shelf. She left and soon returned with Steele and told him to sign a few copies. He did the deed then went back to the bar. She had a fag in the shop and told the clerk the two of them had worked together for years and were in Baghdad at the start of the war but they had both quit journalism when one of their friends had been killed. They had moved to Europe to get away from the world but were now back because she was starting up a TV station in Jordan. Steele was writing a novel about how the press helped tell the lie that led the UK and America into the Iraq war. That one I would very much like to read. Apparently Steele still comes round the Mexican bar every now and then. I hope so, because the next time I pass through Amman I'd very much like to buy him a pint.
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