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Adventures in Bookland: Fighting ISIS by Tim Locks

A strange book this. On the outside, the story of a fairly ordinary Englishman deciding to sell up everything he owned to go and help the Kurds in their fight against ISIS, on the inside it’s a story of identities assumed and cast off.

First, the outside story. Tim Locks, horrified by what he sees and hears of ISIS on TV and the internet, decides to mortgage his house and sell his business and go off and fight. The fighting, it turns out, mostly involves sitting around – he is good on conveying the boredom that is the greater part of most military action – and the motley collection of Western fighters who turn up in what the Kurds fervently hope will one day be Kurdistan to take part in the war. The fact that, in the end, Locks contributes relatively little to the war beyond bankrolling more experienced volunteers (Locks has no military experience at the start of his adventures) adds to the authenticity of the book. Somebody who was making things up would hardly bother writing a memoir in which so little actually happens!

What is truly odd about the book is Locks himself, and the authorial voice he and his ghostwriter have chosen. Early in the book we learn that Locks actually went to private schools as a boy, including Stowe College (current termly fees £11,500). Yet the book is written in the voice of a Middlesboro lad who went to a sink comp. Locks says that he hated school, and left with few qualifications – but you don’t spend so many years in such an environment, nor have parents who can afford those sorts of fees, without it leaving a mark on your deportment. So it is clear that Locks has reinvented himself, turning himself into something very different from his upbringing. If he had chosen to written about that, and how that affected his decision to go off and fight, he might have written a very different, and very much better, book.

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