Former foreign editor Peter Walker and foreign correspondent Christina Lamb joined journalist Brian Walker for a wide-ranging discussion on politics, war and love in Some Here Among Us.
Walker is here to discuss his novel, Some Here Among Us – a cross-generational meditation on youth and promise and loss in the face of two of the most controversial wars in modern history. In fact, he jokes, if Tolstoy hadn’t got there first, he might have called his book ‘War and Love’.
“Love is at the foreground, but war is always in the background,” says Walker. The story follows a group of friends over 40 years as they flee New Zealand to Washington, before returning again via various war zones and shifting politics.
With a long history of reporting from conflict areas, Walker has the gravitas and knowledge to bring this background layer to life. When asked how autobiographical his novel is, Walker says “memory is used in fiction just as it autobiography”. However, he notes that whilst autobiographical memory must be tied to the facts, otherwise it’s a lie, “fictional memory must be liberated from the facts, otherwise it’s not fiction”.
For Walker, the reverberations of war are always around us – like a woman beating a dusty carpet with a broom, its effects will ricochet and bounce towards us no matter where we live.
And from fiction to fact – Christina Lamb, with over 20 years of reporting in Afghanistan and Pakistan under her belt, is a walking tome of facts, figures and insights into a politically charged and highly complex environment.
Lamb says her most recent book, Farewell Kabul, is about “how we don’t seem to be able to end wars anymore”. Having first reported from Afghanistan in 1989 Lamb has seen the shifting vagaries of global politics played out in this embattled country in all its forms. From the USSR invasion, to the rise of the Mujahedeen to the US hunt for Osama Bin Laden, Lamb incisively asks the most important question – has it all been worth it?
She tells the story of the NATO headquarters in Kabul, where a tradition has developed of each Commander planting a new tree at the end of his tenure.
“There are 17 trees”, she says. Too many, she thinks, for the relatively short period of NATO involvement, revealing a lack of continuity in leadership that would have been crucial to establishing stability.
It is a somber discussion ultimately, on the futility of conflict and the tendency of Western governments to throw money at a problem and hope it goes away with little thought of the longer term consequences for those bearing out the realities of their decisions.
Maybe after all, fact and fiction are in this instance the same thing – as Lamb notes in the end what she mainly covered was the ordinary stories of Afghans living their lives amongst the fighting and rubble.
The foreground of love, against the backdrop of war.