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This review is taken from PN Review 183, Volume 35 Number 1, September - October 2008.


There are some subjects that force us to reconsider all our moral, ethical and aesthetic assumptions, some situations and experiences that make us question what we have the right to speak about and imagine. This, it seems to me, is one of the most valuable things to come out of reading Brian Turner's poems about his tour of duty as an infantry team leader in Iraq. Some of these poems are stronger than others but the extremity of his subject matter forces us to consider more carefully than usual just what we mean by this, out of respect for the victims of the conflict he writes about.

One of the strengths of the collection is that Turner's compassion - generally understated and unsentimental - extends not only to the people caught up in daily acts of murderous violence but to Iraq as a country of great natural beauty and ancient civilisation. The animals and birds that escape from the Baghdad zoo in the wake of war and invasion are not invoked as mere premonitions of the human chaos to come but elegised for their own frail sakes. If, by the end of the collection, the narrator feels 'I have only the shadows under the leaves to take with me' then at least the reader has by then a good idea of what the texture, weight and compromised calm of these Iraqi shadows are like.

It is when Turner is observing in an apparently distant, journalistic ...

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