The Road to Afghanistan (2013), by Linda Granfield

This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 19.3.

Illustrated by Brian Deines

Granfield-AfghanistanThe Road to Afghanistan tells in simple but poetic language the story of Canadian soldiers going to and coming home from war. Through the brief history of a great-grandfather, a grandfather, and a soldier returned from the current war in Afghanistan, readers are given a glimpse of the sacrifices made to ensure peace in our world.

The dust jacket mentions only the Afghan war, and perhaps it would have been better for the author to focus on the soldier’s recollections of Afghanistan, of “its scenery and its people, the challenges faced and the successes achieved.” Instead, we learn more about the great-grandfather’s experience in World War One and his return home, and are given only a brief mention of the grandfather having fought in World War Two. Images of the current conflict mirror the battle scenes from the World War One pages, and pages 24 and 25 show soldiers from all three wars. This artistic comparison is perhaps too subtle; it feels as if the author has reused images, until one looks carefully at the headgear, the miniscule outlines of planes in the pastel skies, or the shape of the guns. A stronger distinction between periods and soldiers may have helped the narrative to feel more balanced, better structured.

The parallel is invoked again—less successfully—in the soldiers’ experiences. Where the great-grandfather had his arm blown off, our soldier ominously tells us: “I took my next step…” but then when we turn the page, nothing happens; there is no resolution to the comparison. “That step could have been my last,” we are told, but narratively speaking, every step on Afghani soil could have been the last. There is no explanation for why this step, in particular, mattered.

On the final page, we are shown the young female soldier as she stands proudly on Remembrance Day. This unexpected revelation really does cause readers to rethink their cultural expectations, and brings home that Canadian men and women are fighting and dying for peace. The message of this book is one that deserves to be told; but while the concept of the parallel structure is promising, its execution does not evoke an emotional response equal to that of the message.

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