“All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.” — Winston Churchill
P.O.W. is a major departure from Max Vos’s most recent bestseller My Hero. I knew it would be, so I wasn’t surprised. Other readers may have been, but I thought both Max and MLR were very diligent in their advisory warnings. In effect, they turn readers away, so you know the publisher only puts them there if they contain really important information to be considered when deciding whether or not to buy the book.
My Uncle Bob (he has since died, so I can use his real name) was a P.O.W. in Vietnam. He came home a damaged, broken and bitter man. He immediately crawled into a bottle of whiskey and never came back out. He died from cancer caused by Agent Orange that his own government dumped on him and told him was harmless. He never, and I mean never, talked about what he experienced for those seven months. I saw some scars once when he was living with us, but I was too young to put everything together until long after his death. I wish I had been a few years older so I could have understood what happened to him and tried to talk to him.
Max Vos has written, in accordance with all the research I did about treatment of prisoners of war, a pretty accurate account of what happens to soldiers captured by enemy combatants. If he erred in any way, it was to downplay the amount of torture inflicted upon these brave men and women. The Taliban is a notoriously terroristic group whose leadership seems to revel in the torture of their enemies. They are also part of an exceedingly homophobic society. To them, the sexual abuse of a prisoner is the most demeaning type of misery they can inflict. I have always found it odd that the Taliban (and all regimes before it, including Hitler’s SS) don’t allow themselves to comprehend that while inflicting sexual torture on the prisoners, they themselves are participating in an act which would find them put to death by their brethren under any other circumstances.
In P.O.W., Max Vos introduces us to Sam Stone and the fellow Marine with whom he is secretly in love, Benoit. Benoit is straight and has a wife and baby at home, while Stone is gay but not really out. When their chopper is shot down by a Taliban RPG, they are taken prisoner by a sadist and his minions. One of the men, however, is different. He is well groomed and dressed. He speaks English well, though with a British accent. His name is Abbas and he is there primarily as a translator. He is making Sam’s gaydar ping out loud.
Sam and Benoit are held for ten days. They suffer terrible physical, psychological and sexual torture. They are always cold. Always hungry. It is winter in Afghanistan, and Sam and Benoit are kept naked with only a thin blanket for protection from the freezing weather. Abbas turns out to be a friend, then more than a friend, to Sam and Benoit. He and another of their young captors are instrumental in Sam and Benoit’s escape.
Their dramatic escape was so well written, it had me sliding through the pages on my Kindle as quickly as I ever have. It was a hair raising, tense every muscle in my body, skin-of-your teeth, are we going to make it or not, kind of desperate run through the mountains to get to the safety the Marines had on the way.
The only thing about P.O.W. that was unsatisfying to me was the insta-love. I know many readers really like that and would count it in the plus column. It is just a personal thing for me. I am unable to suspend disbelief in that one instance, probably because of personal experience. Don’t let that stop you from reading this book, though. The ending and especially the epilogue were exceptionally emotionally satisfying and I truly loved this book. There were parts of it that normally would have turned me off to characters, but they just fit with Sam, Benoit and Abbas. Max Vox did a great job of creating characters that will stick with you and hopefully make you think about what our (mostly young) servicemen and women are knowingly risking when they put on the uniform for The United States of America. Highly recommended.