• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

The most unlikely recruit

After rejecting life as a teenage bride, a young woman secretly signs up with the SAS.

Intelligent writing: Kate Bolick.
Intelligent writing: Kate Bolick.

A Manchester-raised Pakistani teenager, clever, sparky and determined, but dreading being married directly from school, persuades her parents to send her away for tertiary training, instead. She develops a taste for living alone, opens a technology-design business and buys property; but it’s not enough. Azi Ahmed feels compelled to complete a gruelling course of military training, without her parents’ knowledge, hiding her bruises under her salwar kameez as she plays the role of submissive daughter at family gatherings. Ahmed’s singular story is told in WORLDS APART: A MUSLIM GIRL WITH THE SAS (Robson, $39.99). She has since entered mainstream politics, for the ­Conservative Party. One to watch.

By looking at World War II espionage networks across a range of countries, historian Max Hastings lets us see the acknowledged triumphs and personalities of Britain’s Bletchley Park codebreaking operation as well as the lesser-known successes of Bletchley’s German counterparts and the huge Russian spy network that stretched to the US. THE SECRET WAR: SPIES, CODES AND GUERRILLAS 1939-1945 (Collins, $39.99) is a mammoth piece of research. Hastings is eminently readable on the larger-than-life characters often drawn to this line of work, and their sometimes lurid personal stories.

The newish concept of “moral injury”, originally seen as a subset of post-traumatic stress disorder, is now perceived to be a condition in need of its own specialised treatment. MORAL INJURY: UNSEEN WOUNDS IN AN AGE OF BARBARISM (UNSW, $47.99) looks at the effects of war and conflict on the psychology of humans deployed to them, whether as military fighters or in peacekeeping missions, humanitarian assistance or disaster relief. The book’s 18 contributors, all Australian, include ex-soldiers, military chaplains, medical personnel, clinicians and scholars, under the capable editorship of ­Professor Tom Frame. Their thought-provoking essays explore the manifestations of moral injury and morality’s complex nature.

It’s hard to describe US writer Kate Bolick’s unusual memoir-meditation on the battles of an independent female writer to blend career success with emotional fulfilment without making it sound clichéd. It’s anything but. She writes with intelligence and a fine ear for language. SPINSTER: MAKING A LIFE OF ONE’S OWN (Corsair, $32.99) is slow to get going, but when Bolick starts drawing on the experiences of some of her heroines – earlier American women who tackled the same challenge – the story leaps to life in a series of cameo bios of Neith Boyce, Maeve Brennan, Edna St Vincent Millay, Edith Wharton and Fannie Hurst.


Follow the Listener on Twitter or Facebook.