They bear labels instead of names - noncombatant, unintended victim, collateral damage. Theirs are the blurred faces and forms seen in news footage shot from a moving vehicle. And when soldiers, media, and profiteers move on to the next conflict, they stay behind to cope amid the wreckage. They have stories to tell to anyone who will pause long enough to hear them.
In What Wars Leave Behind, J. Malcolm Garcia reveals the people and pain behind the statistics. He writes about impoverished families scraping by in Cairo's city of the dead, ordinary Syrians pretending all is well as shells explode around them, and others caught in conflicts that rage long after the cameramen have packed up and gone away.
Garcia describes his travels in some of the world's hotspots in Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. In a series of personal travel essays that read like short stories, he exposes the endless messiness of war and the failings of good intentions, and he traces their impact on the lives of natives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Kosovo, Chad, and Syria. He discovers amazing resilience among people who must struggle just to survive each day.
Garcia gives readers the sort of gritty detail learned from immersing himself in other cultures. He eats the food, drinks the tea, and endures the oppressive heat. These are the stories of how a middle-class guy from the Midwest with a social work degree learned to experience and embrace the cultures of Third World countries in conflict - and lived to tell the tale.
J. Malcolm Garcia is the author of The Khaarijee: A Chronicle of Friendship and War in Kabul (2009) and Riding through Katrina with the Red Baron's Ghost (2012). His stories have been featured in Best American Travel Writing and Best American Nonrequired Reading. He lives outside Chicago.