Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
In All Lara's Wars, the great events of the last half-century—the realignment of Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the rise in the Middle East of ISIS and its quest for a new Caliphate—converge in this account of a Chechen-Georgian family whose two sons become radicalized, and how their mother—Lara—travels to Syria by bus and at great risk, not to join them but to bring them home. By then, the older son is a high level commander and the younger son a respected soldier in ISIS's army. The story is told with a sense of wonder at the contemporary world and all the ways it resembles a primitive and violent land where all struggles are to the death, and there is an epic battle going on between forces of good and evil that cannot be understood other than as mythic and larger than life.
Lara is a Kist—one of a tiny ethnicity that crossed the Caucasus mountains a century ago to settle in the remote Pankisi Gorge in northern Georgia, a peaceful and isolated paradise. She married a Chechen, moved to Grozny, and became the mother of two sons. When war came to Chechnya, she took her children home to the safe Georgian valley, and later sent them to Western Europe to live with their father—to protect them from the influence of the radical Islamic freedom fighters who had come to the Pankisi Gorge as refugees from the Chechnyan wars.
As in all of Wojciech Jagielski's books, he tells here the story of any modern war, how the individual lives of civilians and combatants are obliterated in the sweep of the larger narrative—and how the humanity of these individual lives is revealed, and the price paid in human endurance and persistence and loss. Jagielski observes, listening to Lara and letting her story emerge through the filter of his literary skill. This unusual reportage tells us the facts of the Chechnyan wars and the reality of the Syrian war from the viewpoint of ISIS recruits, but it is also the true account of one ordinary family that became part of the larger tragedy that has claimed so many victims in recent years.