In The Girl in Green, an American soldier and a British journalist try to save an Iraqi girl from violence in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm. Over twenty years later, they reunite in Iraq after seeing the girl’s doppelganger on some news footage. The Girl in Green is a sharp-witted commentary on the absurdity and futility of conditions in the war-torn Middle East.
I read The Girl in Green as part of the 2021 Thoughtful Reading Challenge. February’s challenge was to read a book set in the desert in order to help beat the cold winter temps (which, I might say, was pretty prophetic).
It’s 1991 in Iraq in the days right after Desert Storm. Saddam Hussein is still in power and unleashing government forces on his own citizens. Arwood Hobbes is a young soldier a little too clever for his own good, manning a machine gun at Checkpoint Zulu, an American outpost within Iraq. Thomas Benton is a British war journalist embedded with Arwood’s unit.
One day, Thomas decides he needs to interview some citizens of a nearby town that is off limits to him and American forces. He collaborates with Arwood to sneak over. Unfortunately, during his visit government forces attack the town, mercilessly murdering hundreds of civilians. He and Arwood try to rescue a young girl in a green dress to no avail. The incident haunts them both for the next 20+ years.
Twenty two years later, Thomas receives a call from Arwood. News footage of a mortar attack in Iraq has gone viral, mainly because of the girl in the green dress that looks so much like the other. The two travel to Iraq, Arwood to save the girl this time and Thomas to bury her. They’re both seeking their own brand of closure.
They set up base at a refugee camp because they know one of the leaders of a humanitarian aid group. Then they set off on a harrowing car trip to find the girl in green, dead or alive.
This book is so unique and so well done. Author Derek B. Miller leveraged his expertise in international relations (he has a PhD) to create a story that is both very human and softly scathing. He paints a picture of Iraq, with all its competing factions, that is not at all hopeful. He also made very real the desperation and fear refugees from this region live with every day.
But it wasn’t all politics and social commentary. One of this novel’s real strengths is the unique and memorable characters. Arwood was particularly well done. He’s damaged, selectively honorable, an opportunist, and a cynical philosopher all packaged in a big, hyper personality. I also liked Marta, the aid worker with good leadership skills, a spine of steel, and a tender side despite years of seeing humanity at its worst. And perhaps my favorite character was Miguel, a minor character with truly awesome dialog.
The Girl in Green tackles some big topics. In addition to the state of affairs in Iraq, the novel also touches on the emptiness many servicemembers feel after leaving the military, the death of a marriage caused by a spouse checking out, long lasting trauma caused by witnessing violence, and how strong relationships can form among unlikely people when conditions are adverse. All these themes are handled with insightful intelligence.
I really liked The Girl in Green. I think it would make a great movie. It would also be a good book club pick, especially for co-ed book clubs. It definitely provides a lot to talk about.
Check out my review of Norwegian by Night, also written by Derek B. Miller.
Did you read a book set in the desert this month? Tell us all about it in the comments.