Book Review: Apache Dawn by Damien Lewis

Apache Dawn by Damien Lewis - Header

I’ve owned Apache Dawn for a very long time. I can’t tell you why I originally bought it, chances are I was probably off ballooning somewhere and thought having a book with me “just in case” was a good idea, but whatever the reason it has sat unread, squished into the corner of my bookcase for a very long time. I only have one bookcase, so to speak, and it now only has a few fingers worth of unread books left on it. I’ve become a digital reader, Google Play stores my “to read” pile now and, as it seemed to make more sense to read up the physical books I already own rather than spend digital money on new, so, I blew off the dust and set to, but I have to admit, as I did my heart wasn’t really in it.

I’m not a big fan of military warfare either in general, or as a genre. I can accept it on screen, or in literacy because there is a detached safety that makes it somehow not real. It’s a horrible thing to say, but it’s the truth. But when you make it real, when I’m forced to accept that these are real people and this actually happens I don’t enjoy it. It’s not something I can connect with because I know I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be in the army, or the air force, facing these situations. If I was, I’d would be the weakling, cowering in the corner, probably urinating over himself, that you see so often shown in war movies as the hero charges past to save the day.

Apache Helicopter (Camp Bastion) - Apache Dawn

Which makes why I ever brought Apache Dawn more puzzling. It’s obvious it would be a story born from the Boeing attack Helicopter (the picture on the front helping in that assumption), entrenched heavily into a combat situation but after that I didn’t know what to expect. I think I’d actually shut the book completely out of my mind. I couldn’t predict which war; I had convinced myself “it was a book so it would be a story of fiction” and in my mind, I was forcing myself to read a story that would be fake, invented by author Damien Lewis to bring a literacy romance to the art of war.

I was therefore, completely unprepared for what I actually found. Apache Dawn is essentially a non-fiction recount of a 100 day tour of an Apache flight detail’s first deployment to Afghanistan. Detailing the missions they flew, it is told from their perspective, interweaving their first person thoughts and opinions with a general third person overview but this switching between the two vantage points created my biggest problem with the book. It’s tone.

Flight Ugly (662 Squadron) - Apache Dawn

The book opens in the third person, allowing you to watch the action from above and therefore, feels like the work of fiction I expected. It’s a story of Helicopters fighting battles and saving the day. In my head I was clearly able to see events play out, cause and effect and the emotions of battle leaping from the page. But then, without warning it jumps to one of the pilots giving their first person recount. It’s goes from ‘they’ to ‘I’ without pausing for breath. To put it into a film context, it’s like watching the battle unfold before a soldier stops, looks straight down the camera lens and tells you how it felt to them.

It just muddled everything up, suddenly I wasn’t sure what I was reading. Was this a story or a biography? Was this implicitly real or narrative fiction? I think I had come into the book expecting a fake story, it was a book, it was invented, imagination. I was safe because it wasn’t real. And then suddenly it was real, suddenly death and bullets and fear were all physical and it meant I felt uneasy around the it because I no longer felt safe. Apache Dawn had tricked me into thinking it was a story in which nobody actually got hurt even if they said they did and suddenly I’d been shown the bodies.

I did eventually get my head around it, accept that this was the story of real life and find a way back into it, becoming enthralled by the characters and the pondering of what would happen next? While there pacing kept me intrigued, the actually events, however, sadly became a little bit repetitive, the general beginning middle and end of each operation, while subtly different, always followed the same path and conclusion. I was also acutely aware at times that the book felt slightly skewed, slightly too much in favour of the strength of the British Apache. I could never shake the feeling that parts of it felt slightly propagandised.

Damien Lewis (Author) - Apache Dawn

Whilst this meant I never fully trusted the book, Damien Lewis does bring the events it contains to life in a way that is completely clear and when necessary able to get inside you and place you in the action. Lewis manages to place you into the action, and while I never felt in danger, I did feel the panic, fear and anxiety that the pilots went through. I would read on and on, not because I was lost in the story but because I needed to see they were OK. I needed to breath the sigh of release when the guns fell silent and everyone was OK. I connected to them but never to the war. I know it’s real, but in my mind I never allowed it to feel anything other than invented. Afghanistan is sand and heat, England is grass and rain, the two don’t equate and so I was able to pretend it wasn’t real, keep the story “out of sight out of mind” and thus keep me feeling safe. Trick myself into pretending these weren’t real bullets, lives and stories.

I got more enjoyment out of Apache Dawn than I thought I would do. It has problems and issues with trust and presentation and as I said, I detached myself from the reality of war, focusing purely on the characters rather than the situations before I would allow the book emotionally inside me. I must admit, though, that it did manage to tickle the imagination of the small child inside my mind that once, a long time ago, dreamt of flying planes and helicopters, I wished at times I could experience what it is like to fly these machines, but it was just that, a dream, because the reality is I’m not a military mind, I can’t deal with confrontation or conflict and I don’t like to fight.

Posted on by 5WC in Book First Edition

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