The memoir of a former South Australian soldier’s seven horrific years in an Afghanistan prison pulls no punches in reliving the crime, corruption and incompetence that is rife in the area, not just from the locals.
Rob Langdon left the army to take up security work which eventually led him to a company based in the Afghan capital, Kabul. With bribery and corruption just a normal way of life for officials and the company he worked for, Langdon found himself side by side with war lords, drug dealers and other criminals as he went about his work protecting convoys.
It was during one such mission that things went wrong and, in self-defence, he shot and killed an Afghan guard, landing himself in prison with three death sentences and an eventual assignment to Pol-e-Charkhi, one of the worst prisons in the world.
Langdon details his time leading up to, and during his incarceration. He opens up about the criminal elements he encountered in the Afghan justice system, along with revealing the treachery and illegal activities of doing security business in Afghanistan, the blind eye turned by western governments and NGOs in the region (Non-Government [international charitable] Organisations), and both the friendships and enemies he made in gaol, some of them fellow westerners.
The book is a well-written and gripping page-turner, and a nasty indictment on the political game being played out in Afghanistan by the Taliban, war lords, western governments and the country’s own leaders. Some of it is a case of I-said-he-said, particularly when reflecting back on his own version of events that can be found in the autobiographies of other people he met along the way. A memoir is a person’s own recollection of events but Langdon goes so far as to call out other people by name and completely contradict what they had claimed happened.
This is a memoir of a man who lived through Hell and it reflects in his descriptions of depression and fear, mixed with his bouts of hope and finding happiness where he could. To Langdon’s credit, he concludes his very dark, unforgiving memoir by reflecting on how he would one day like to return to Afghanistan to be able to enjoy the beauty and hospitality of the country. Until that point, his painting of the place and its people is bleak and negative, with little room for saying anything good about it. I was pleased that he offered this token of balance at the end, as his is not a happy story.
Langdon’s anger over what happened to him is evident in his writing. He doesn’t hide it nor apologise for it, and his account of his time in Afghanistan makes it entirely justifiable. Most people would probably not be so strong in such a situation.
The Seventh Circle is, dare I say it, an exciting read from the comfort of my loungeroom chair but a terrible nightmare for anyone to have lived. In this age of closing borders and unjustified fear of migration, Landon’s book serves not only as a therapeutic release for himself, but a reminder to us all of the harsh and unfair conditions so many seek asylum from.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 9
Released by: Allen & Unwin
Release Date: October 2017
RRP: $32.99 paperback
The Seventh Circle is, dare I say it, an exciting read from the comfort of my loungeroom chair but a terrible nightmare for anyone to have lived. The book is a well-written and gripping page-turner.