Rafa Gerszak with Dawn Hunter
Annick Press/Juvenile Non-Fiction
Release Date: September 1, 2011
Award-winning photographer Rafal Gerszak spent a year embedded with the American military in Afghanistan, where he used his camera to document everyday life in the war-torn country. While there, he developed a deep affection for the land and its people, and he later returned on his own. Despite the dangers around him, he continued taking photos, exposing the plight of that besieged country.
Framed by journal entries that relate his experiences on two levels-as a foreigner looking for a deeper connection to a country that has stirred him, and as a journalist looking for another side to the story-BEYOND BULLETS addresses the volatile situation in Afghanistan with sensitivity and profound insight. Through Gerszak’s lens, readers can see the shattered aftermath of military attacks and dismal hospitals and refugee camps, but they can also experience the vibrant activity of life in the markets, at home and on the Muslim day of rest.
Featuring more than 40 of Gerszak’s photographs and at once harrowing and heartrending, BEYOND BULLETS is as illuminating as it is riveting.
Often books dealing with war or the military are so radically slanted it is difficult to take them seriously. This book is deliciously refreshing in its neutrality.
Gerszak begins his book as he is embedded with American military stationed in Afghanistan.
He manages to humanize all the parties involved- American and NATO forces, Afghan Police, Taliban and insurgents. He shows that all of them are simply doing what they think is best for the people of Afghanistan. They spend their days (and nights) in danger, doing what no one else can or will.
This portion of the book may be difficult for some children (adults, too!), as there are several mentions of death, including the suicide of an American soldier.
After a brief return to Canda, Gerszak realizes that he can use his lens as a voice for the Afghani people and he returns to the war zone as a civilian with no military support.
It is then that we see glimpses of what Afghanistan once was, and what it may be again…families enjoying the swan boats on the lake, spending a hot afternoon at the public pool, shopping in the market…
We also see children who must daily walk by horrific and violent scenes, hospitals with no medicine and no electricity, suicide bombers who make every day a dangerous one…
Gerszack is careful to present the information without placing blame. It seems that he truly only has one wish- to see the people of Afghanistan be able to rebuild their lives and live in safety.
My verdict: Read it! This is a beautiful book, simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting. Although targeted at ages 9-12, I think it has a much wider audience.