FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Review: Derek B. Miller’s The Girl in Green

There’s an American soldier—twenty-two-year old Arwood Hobbs—who lurches in and out of Derek B. Miller’s riveting novel, The Girl in Green, beginning at the end of Desert Storm, in 1991, and concluding with the violent entrenchment of ISIS in the Middle East in recent years. In one of the early scenes, Arwood and several of his friends come across a boy, perhaps nine years old, who is stranded in an open gully, surrounded by minefields and, further off in safe areas, dozens of other refugees, like himself, who are watching. Arwood tells his Western friends that he will rescue the boy who is in shock and bleeding from a piece of shrapnel that has killed another child. The Westerners yell at the boy that he mustn’t move, and then Arwood walks across the barren land to rescue him.

Arwood points at himself and tells the boy his name. “The boy stared at Arwood. He was traumatized. There was no predicting how he would react. He could just as easily have sprinted off across the minefield. But he didn’t. Without a sound, as though released from a cage, the child leapt into Arwood’s arms and held him as though Arwood were a winged Buraq who would fly them both away on a night journey to a fabled place where they could find whatever had been lost.” Arwood carries the child to safety as all the observers (refugees, international rescue forces, and a British journalist) hold their breath. Is Arwood crazy, a fool, or just plain lucky that he didn’t step on a mine? No question that he’s got courage and great compassion for those in need, particularly children.

Perhaps Arwood’s bold act was an act of atonement because of an earlier incident, involving an older girl dressed in green, that didn’t end so happily. As Arwood was returning from what was still regarded as rebel territory where he had gone to locate Benton, the British journalist, he rescues a girl and pulls her along with them toward the safety of the ceasefire zone. Iraqis pursue them, trying to claim the girl. What looks like safety ends abruptly when an Iraqi colonel shoots the girl in the back. Benton prevents Arwood from retaliating, from killing the colonel.

These two incidents form the initial bookend of what is about to become a very complex and fascinating novel that appears, at first, to be about the horrors of America’s recent girlgreenMiddle Eastern wars. We’ve got a twenty-two-year-old nutcase, who apparently knows no fear, and an older and more seasoned man, the British journalist, who will eventually attempt to rebuild his earlier status as a war correspondent during a time when, first, such demanding journalism is mostly in decline because of the financial straits of newspapers and, second, the sophisticated propaganda of terrorist groups to recruit and dominate the on-line media with their horrifying exploits. Traditional journalism and sensational terrorist propaganda are as much at war with one another as the wars both sides fight to control one another. And that is where Miller’s story excels, not in the opening sequences but the later ones.

In those contemporary scenes, twenty-two years after Arwood loses the girl in green but saves the boy from the landmines, he will call Benton at his residence in England and claim that the girl is still alive and that she’s possibly survived a mortar attack that has been given wide TV coverage about the Middle East. They are unlikely possibilities (both that it’s the same girl and that she’s survived the attack), but Arwood lures Benton back to the Middle East (Iraq) so that they can locate the girl. This is where the story excels, mostly because of the contrasts Miller makes between Western and Middle Eastern perspectives, histories, and perceptions. Arwood observes, for example, as they are crossing barren land: “The cradle of Western civilization, and nothing grows here.” His Iraqi counterpart responds, “[What] makes us better than you…is that we can imagine a better future. All you can imagine is a better past.” In the Trump era, that remark has additional meaning.

Often the differences border on dark humor. When Arwood sees a black hood on the floor, he asks Benton “Who makes these?” Benton doesn’t know what he means, so Arwood continues, “Who makes them? …I’ve never seen one for sale in London, New York, Milan, or Cape Town. I’ve never looked in a shop window and seen one on the head of a mannequin. No Christmas sales at Bloomingdale’s. No pop-up ads on the Internet…. They’re useless for anything other than covering or carrying heads…” And then the clincher: “Has anyone considered that if we simply raided the factories that make these and grabbed hold of their mailing lists, we’d probably have the entire global terrorist network by the balls? Even knowing where the orders have been placed, and for how many, would wrap up the entire intelligence game. Am I the only one who has figured this out?” Again, shades of our president elect.

Or, my favorite, “The can opener was not invented for a full eighty years after the invention of the can.” Is that true? Did those cans have to sit around for eighty years before they could be opened? Quite a philosophical question.

And the best remark of all, “Business depends on speed, and mere democracy depends on validity.” Ponder that for a while.

Behind all the humor and the more philosophical statements, The Girl in Green is a serious examination of the gathering of news in war zones and how that news can be manipulated. The second half of the novel is an elaborate (and sometimes exhausting) railroad ride with Arwood as the captain, as the other characters (including international Red Crescent observers) follow him along into increasing hostile situations. Moreover, in his afterword to the novel, Miller explains how he became interested in his topic that, surprisingly, began as his Ph.D. dissertation on bad press. He was haunted by much of the coverage of the Middle Eastern wars because so much of it was false. This makes The Girl in Green doubly concerning and timely in a way the writer probably never imagined.

Derek B. Miller: The Girl in Green
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 326 pp., $26

More articles by:

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
Jonathan Cook
How the Corporate Media Enslave Us to a World of Illusions
Ajamu Baraka
North Korea Issue is Not De-nuclearization But De-Colonization
Andrew Levine
Midterms Coming: Antinomy Ahead
Louisa Willcox
New Information on 2017 Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Deaths Should Nix Trophy Hunting in Core Habitat
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Singapore Fling
Ron Jacobs
What’s So Bad About Peace, Man?
Robert Hunziker
State of the Climate – It’s Alarming!
L. Michael Hager
Acts and Omissions: The NYT’s Flawed Coverage of the Gaza Protest
Dave Lindorff
However Tenuous and Whatever His Motives, Trump’s Summit Agreement with Kim is Praiseworthy
Robert Fantina
Palestine, the United Nations and the Right of Return
Brian Cloughley
Sabre-Rattling With Russia
Chris Wright
To Be or Not to Be? That’s the Question
David Rosen
Why Do Establishment Feminists Hate Sex Workers?
Victor Grossman
A Key Congress in Leipzig
John Eskow
“It’s All Kinderspiel!” Trump, MSNBC, and the 24/7 Horseshit Roundelay
Paul Buhle
The Russians are Coming!
Joyce Nelson
The NED’s Useful Idiots
Lindsay Koshgarian
Trump’s Giving Diplomacy a Chance. His Critics Should, Too
Louis Proyect
American Nativism: From the Chinese Exclusion Act to Trump
Stan Malinowitz
On the Elections in Colombia
Camilo Mejia
Open Letter to Amnesty International on Nicaragua From a Former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience
David Krieger
An Assessment of the Trump-Kim Singapore Summit
Jonah Raskin
Cannabis in California: a Report From Sacramento
Josh Hoxie
Just How Rich Are the Ultra Rich?
CJ Hopkins
Awaiting the Putin-Nazi Apocalypse
Mona Younis
We’re the Wealthiest Country on Earth, But Over 40 Percent of Us Live in or Near Poverty
Dean Baker
Not Everything Trump Says on Trade is Wrong
James Munson
Trading Places: the Other 1% and the .001% Who Won’t Save Them
Rivera Sun
Stop Crony Capitalism: Protect the Net!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail