Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Book Review: A soldier-poet's memoir of Bosnia - King of Tuzla by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

            Peacekeeping and stability operations present the solider with challenges that are in the moment tactical, but return later on an emotional front. Arnold Jansen op de Haar describes this viscerally in his debut novel, King of Tuzla. The “King” is Captain Tijmen Klein Gildekamp, commanding officer of a company of Dutch Grenadiers deployed to Bosnia in the Muslim dominated city of Tuzla, specifically to secure the international airport so that humanitarian aid can flow into the region.
            Tijmen wrestles with his assignment, and thus his identity as an elite Dutch “red beret,” as he faces the visceral ordeal of ethnic war. Jansen op de Haar includes the Bosnian Muslim point of view through a number of characters which strengthens the reader’s understanding of Tijmen’s experience. This is supported by an interesting literary device, as the second half of King of Tuzla, which covers the hardest part of Tijmen’s deployment, is relayed a year later as one of Tijmen’s comrades reviews the officer’s diary. It is as if what Tijmen has seen is so horrible, it cannot even be shared directly with the reader.
            Though written as prose, the author’s talent as a poet can be felt in many lines. Translated into English, his style seems initially ethereal, but then it suddenly grabs you, pushing one right into the armored vehicle, or next to sandbags in the mud. Thus, King of Tuzla tells the story of service in the Balkans vividly, as only a soldier who served there can relay. King of Tuzla is a must for the library of any military enthusiast or historian.

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