A haunting, fast-paced war memoir, Chasing Alexander is Christopher Martin’s account of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A failing college student obsessed with Alexander the Great, Martin enlists in the US Marines to become a different sort of man, a man like Alexander. From his difficulty at boot camp to his disappointing deployment to Iraq, Martin fears he may never follow in Alexander’s footsteps.
Then, after a strategy change, Martin and his unit arrive in Marjah, “the bleeding ulcer” of Afghanistan. There he faces heat, fleas, and a hidden enemy. As the casualties mount, Martin struggles to control his emotions and his newfound sense of power. Chasing Alexander looks unflinchingly at the seductive side of war, and its awful consequences.
I was drawn to this book firstly because of the reference to Alexander the Great as he is a historical figure whom I have always admired for his tactical skills. The other thing I liked about the sound of the book is that it is the experience a Marine on the ground – a ‘grunt’ – rather than someone at a safe remove from the hardships of daily living and the repercussions of poor decision making.
Martin has a style of writing that is easy and informative without needing to go into great detail. He gets descriptions and messages across economically and effectively. I could very clearly envision boot camp, as well as the compounds and terrain where he was stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the feelings of fatigue, heat, restlessness, adrenaline, power, and fear. He writes of his personal triumphs and failures unflinchingly.
I don’t think it was clear what the passages about Alexander were to correlate with. Whether they were intended at face value because the author’s postings were places that Alexander journeyed to and conquered, or because the author’s initial desire to become a Marine was driven by his admiration of Alexander and he felt he was now following in his footsteps as a warrior to some extent I am not sure. There were other connotations I felt could have applied also, to do with the differences in tactical warfare used by Alexander and the U.S. and those of the enemies they were fighting, but those passages about Alexander were interesting and didn’t interfere with the main narrative.
This is a very interesting read which doesn’t glorify the life of a Marine but is almost like a diary of the author’s tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, giving us a glimpse into the frustrations and daily slog as well as the morale-boosting moments that validated his decision to become a Marine.
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