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'Wynne's War,' A Modern Take On The Classic 'Mideastern'


Aaron Gwyn has written a novel about modern man at war on horses. He calls it a mideastern. "Wynne's War" is the story of a U.S. Army Ranger from Okla., Elijah Russell, whose stellar horsemanship gets him assigned to train Green Berets for a special mission in Afghanistan, a horseback raid on the Taliban in treacherous mountain territory.

Just the soldiers and their horses ride deeper into forbidding country, Corporal Russell begins to wonder about what the real mission is and the true motives of the charismatic Captain Wynne who leads it. Aaron Gwyn's new novel is "Wynne's War." He joins us from WFAE in Charlotte, N.C. Thanks so much for being with us.

AARON GWYN: Oh, thank you for having me.

SIMON: I don't see in your bio that you've ever served in the Army, but you sure know horses.

GWYN: I haven't served in the military. I grew up on a cattle ranch, so I was around livestock, horses a good deal.

SIMON: And what put this story in your mind, this meeting of war story with horse story?

GWYN: Like a lot of folks, I've followed the wars on terror. I think it was in 2010, I was watching some news program and I began to think of our involvement in the Mideast as kind of a western. Bandits had come over and attacked us. And we put together a posse and went out along those kinds of lines.

And then I found a book by Doug Stanton called "Horse Soldiers" that talked about the way that special forces had entered Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 on horseback. And so some things began to kind of sort for me at that point.

SIMON: And even in this day and age, there are some commanders who feel there's a place for horses in a war.

GWYN: Absolutely. U.S. Special Forces still conduct reconnaissance on horseback.

SIMON: And I guess, unlike helicopters - the cavalry is typically in helicopters these days - as you explained in the book, helicopters need to hover, and the makes them vulnerable.

GWYN: Right. Horses are quiet. In terms of reconnaissance and transporting soldiers over very harsh terrain, not having to carry fuel or at least not the kind of fuel that a full-terrain vehicle would require.

SIMON: The figure of Captain Wynne casts quite a huge presence in this novel, and we find out in the course of it that before joining the Army, he was a hedge fund manager...

GWYN: Right.

SIMON: ...Which will not endear him to a lot of readers.

GWYN: Right. Wynne is a strange figure in a lot of ways. And there are aspects of his character that are villainess and aspects that are heroic.

SIMON: I mean, without giving anything much away, he doesn't always follow the Geneva Convention.

GWYN: Right. He has an alternate idea about how the war should be fought. He will destroy his humanity and the humanity of others to save humanity with a capital H. He's got an idea of vigilante justice. I mean, he's a true posse member or a leader of a posse.

SIMON: Corporal Russell serves under Captain Wynne. He's wounded at one point. I want you to read us a section, if you could. He's helped by a nurse who becomes important in this story. They're saying goodbye. I believe he's leaving the theater, isn't he?

GWYN: Mhmm.

SIMON: The theater of war, I should say. And if you could read that - the nurse's name is Sarah.

GWYN: (Reading) All right. "Then she reached and touched him very lightly on the arm, the index finger of her gloved right hand, the slightest muffled touch. It lasted maybe a second and then her hand returned to her side, but in that moment, something had passed between them, a signal, a current. And Russell knew, like he knew his own heartbeat, that he was in trouble. He realized that by now he'd prepared himself to die a number of times. But he hadn't, not in any way that mattered, prepared himself to live.

SIMON: I mean, that raises a question that I think you address quite beautifully later in the novel where you've got a character who complains that she goes from dealing with life-and-death situations to a job where she asks, would you like an apple or a baguette at a sandwich shop. Does that pose something that veterans talked about with you?

GWYN: I talked to a good many number of veterans, men who had served in Iraq, men who had served in Afghanistan, Rangers, and so, yeah, a good many service members. With a lot of veterans, there's that sense of, you know, I was just in this crucible where, you know, I had a band of people who I would die for, people who die for me, and I was necessary.

And then, you know, you come back and civilian life, the life that we live is all about, you know, which brand of cereal to pick out in the supermarket aisle and insurance and bills. And I've had veterans express to me this sense of a loss of purpose, you know, returning to all that.

SIMON: Aaron Gwyn. His new novel, "Wynne's War." Thanks so much for being with us.

GWYN: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.