Book Review: The Girl in Green by Derek B. Miller

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.

The girl in green

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.

10 thoughts on “Book Review: The Girl in Green by Derek B. Miller

  1. Hi Michelle! I was in the refugee camps in northern Iraq in early 1991–now I can’t wait to read this book to see this story’s perspective. Your stamp of approval means it’s worth digging up! 😉 I hope you and your family have been managing through this long Covid winter—what a year, especially for the kids. I hope their schooling has stayed on track and they are not discouraged. Thinking of you all!
    Robin

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Robin! I didn’t know you were in the refugee camps. I was bravely eating schnitzel in Germany at the time. I would love to know your thoughts about the book.

      The school year has gone pretty well, all things considered. One of the many benefits of private schools is that they have much more flexibility. The twins have had mostly in school classes this year and the school has taken really good measures to make that possible.

      Like

  2. I read “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho and was rather disappointed for all the hype around it. But I am using these book challenges to read outside my comfort zone! Not everything is going to be a “hit”. This was definitely a “miss” for me. I wish I’d seen your read first. It sounds very intriguing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so disappointing when books don’t live up to their hype! The Alchemist has been on my library list for a while but I keep passing it up when picking my next read. Sounds like that might be the right decision. 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

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  3. The Girl in Green has been on my to-read list for a while and I really need to get to it! This month, I’m toward the end of ‘Mysteries and Legends of Arizona: True Stories Of The Unsolved And Unexplained’ by Sam Lowe. Most of the tales take place near where I live or in towns I’ve actually visited (even including one about a ghost in an old hotel we had our anniversary at some years ago–no, we didn’t see spirits, other than the bottle of wine we had in the room). I’ve learned some cool stories about our state and I look forward to venturing outside of our home again one day for some local exploration.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Karen! I love the idea of reading local books about where you live. Although I live in Missouri, I’m still a Kansas girl at heart. I think I finally need to get to know Missouri better. Thanks for the inspiration!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I initially passed over The Girl in Green because it felt “too heavy” as it is set in a war-torn part of the world that has claimed too many lives for decades. But after reading your review, I really regret that choice. I ended up reading John Woman, and it was a really odd book. Fortunately, I feel much better about my Shakespeare alternative for March. Yay!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I too read The Girl in Green and absolutely loved it. What a great story with wonderful insight into Iraq up to most recent years. Miller’s characters were well developed and likable. Many times I laughed out loud at the dialogue which is not what I expected from a book about Iraq. And yes, Miguel took me back to Spain! Miller nailed his character.

    Originally, the book reminded me a lot of Catch-22 (although it’s been years since I read it). The absurdity of war, decisions that governments make, and most importantly how those decisions impact the individuals involved. A lot of things just don’t make any sense. Miller either served in the military or did extensive research since his depiction of the US Army was quite accurate.
    I really like the main character, Arwood. His optimism was infectious and was a great lesson that most things in life all depend upon your perspective. You can choose to look at them in a positive light, or you can choose the opposite. His dialogue with his captors and colleagues was the best part of the book for me.

    Finally, I kept waiting for Miller to rationalize or sympathize with the bad actors who continue to make the Middle East largely a place of turmoil and pain, but he didn’t. It was refreshing to see an author call it for what it is yet in a non-aggressive manner.

    This was a good one!

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  6. Pingback: Book Review: The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey | Book Thoughts from Bed

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