I’m honestly not sure whether to describe AK Dawson’s MiG-23 Broke My Heart as an easy read or a hard one. On the one hand, I found myself breezing through huge chunks of the novel at a time. On the other, it’s not exactly a pleasant book. There are some flashes of truly brilliant description, but they’re nestled among--and often within--moments of staggering violence. A conscript in the South African Border War, the protagonist, Thomas Green, initially has little to do but keep a rifle pointed towards Angola. However, a secret mission--and a letter from a girl back home in Durban--complicate things enormously.
These two points are interwoven throughout the novel, and certainly provide an interesting plot, one taking over whenever the other dies down. However, in many ways, it’s the things happening underneath the surface that give the story such texture. The word “apartheid” is used only three times. However, in 1988 South Africa, the issue itself is unavoidable, and is an obvious presence in the way the characters interact and, ultimately, how the story plays out. Though the conflict with Angola is presented as a battle against Communism, there is always a sense of a second war being waged within South Africa itself: that of white against black.
However, for the most part this remains in the background. The focus is very much on Thomas himself: how he struggles to get through his time in the army and, like so many soldiers, how he continues to struggle once it is over. By focusing on this personal story, Dawson allows the biggest issues to speak for themselves.
(reviewed 24 days after purchase)