Author: Justin Huggler

Publisher: Createspace

ISBN: 978-1479352043

Although Justin Huggler's Burden of the Desert is a work of fiction, you have to wonder how much is based on truth? Moreover, after reading the novel, readers will most certainly question why journalists and in particular war correspondents would want to willingly put themselves in harm's way? Perhaps it is the hype they experience which is something akin to a potent narcotic or it may be the thrill exacerbated by the closeness of death? No matter what are the reasons, we have to accept that someone needs to do the job of producing hard hitting, objective and front-line reporting that counter the sanitized language that are often the case when describing world-wide conflicts be it in the Middle East or within our own immediate environment.

All of this comes to the fore in Burden of the Desert as we tag along with Huggler's principal character, war correspondent Zoe Temple who covers the American occupation of Iraq bringing her as well as her colleagues into places torn by pandemonium, devastation, death, and civil unrest, trying to bear witness in exposing the truth within a sandstorm of misinformation and half truths.

As the story unfolds, we immediately learn about Lieutenant Rick Benes who unfortunately was involved in the killing of an innocent man together with two of his children, and as we discover, this tragedy will give rise to unforeseen consequences affecting several of the novel's characters.

From here the story shifts and focuses on Zoe who is employed by a British newspaper, the Informer and who is temporarily sent to Iraq to fill in for the newspaper's overworked and exhausted war regular correspondent. To help her navigate perilous waters, she is assigned a translator Ali and a driver, Mahmoud, who is a Muslim in love with a Christian woman which relationship is developed as a subplot of the novel.

Zoe realizes that the life of a war correspondent is nothing like she had bargained for and at times she is faced with difficult choices in her unrelenting quest in satisfying her employers with accurate portrayals of exactly what is going on in Iraq even if it means risking her life and the lives of others.

As Zoe unwraps material for her articles, she is exposed to several horrific events as the atrocities that occurred in the prison at Abu Gharib, the killings of American contractors in Fallujah, ambushes of American soldiers at the hands of Iraqi insurgents, personal acts of revenge, intense hatred of American occupiers, the assassination of a high Shia cleric, deplorable conditions at a children`s hospital, the grief expressed by a wife whose two children and husband were killed as a result of a misguided American military action, beheading of journalists and others, and the ongoing conflicts between the Shia majority and the Sunni minority. And yet, through all of this, Zoe still finds time to emotionally involve herself in love relationships with two of her colleagues, one of whom is a well-known war correspondent who is depicted as a self-centered heel while the other is a somewhat mysterious journalist who turns out to be her savior.

Is there something of the the author in all of this considering that he was a former foreign correspondent for the Independent newspaper and did in fact cover the occupation of Iraq during 2003 and 2004, the same time frame he sets his novel? In addition, we notice how comfortable Huggler is with his subject as he effectively integrates into the yarn events that are certainly not figments of his imagination?

Compelling written and well-conceived Burden of the Desert works with its principal plot and subplots that manage to sustain reader involvement throughout as the author focuses on one main character, providing her with a few major roles and adding in secondary characters as they are needed. In addition, Huggler has effectively drawn on his background as a war correspondent and though it may not be for every reader with some very graphic scenes as well as some unflattering observations concerning the American occupation of Iraq, it does confirm what truth in reporting is all about- exposing the lies, deception and propaganda of the mainstream? And even if it is a work of fiction, readers nonetheless will come away appreciating and praising the role and importance of war correspondents.

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