Like divine revelation, quests aren’t usually something we see in this day and age. That sort of thing belongs to Arthur’s knights or poor old Don Quixote. At least, that’s what I would have thought before I read Derek B. Miller’s The Girl in Green. The novel follows the serio-comic adventures of Arwood Hobbes, as seen by Times journalist Thomas Benton.
Arwood was an ordinary soldier in 1991—more mouthy than most, but fairly ordinary—when he gets caught in an atrocity committed by Iraqi Republican Guard against a small town in the southern part of the country. Thomas meets Arwood while Arwood is manning a machine gun station near a small town by the Iraq-Kuwait border. They chat about the strangeness of war in the late twentieth century, American culture, and how much Arwood wants an ice cream because it’s damn hot out. Arwood talks Thomas into going into the town (which is closed to journalists) for an ice cream when all hell breaks lose. Then Arwood goes AWOL to try and save a girl in a green dress. He was very close to talking his way to safety for himself, the girl, and Thomas until his lieutenant interfered.
The incident scars Arwood, though he would never admit it. After a not-dishonorable discharge, Arwood disappears for twenty years. Thomas goes back to a fading career as a war journalist for the Times and a splintering family life. He might have disappeared entirely into obscurity when he is suddenly contacted by Arwood. Another girl in green has appeared on the news in Syria, in a video of a bomb attack by ISIL. Arwood is convinced that she survived somehow and that it is his mission to find and rescue this girl, who looks exactly like the young woman killed in 1991.
The rest of The Girl in Green is a series of strange, dangerous, and weirdly funny misadventures as Arwood and Thomas try to get to the site of the bombing and rescue the girl. Along the way, they (and we) reflect on how war has gotten even less clear-cut since the first Iraq War. There are many more players than we realize in a war zone than just the belligerents and the civilians who get caught in their way: NGOs, war profiteers, journalists, terrorists. Everyone’s out to fulfill their own agendas, in contrast to what we’ve been told about how war ought to be fought to restore peace. (Which is a bizarre concept when you think about it.) And in the middle of it all, are stories like Arwood and Thomas’s and their weird little quest to do something right for once. I very much enjoyed this book.
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 3 January 2017.