We found the level of action detail in this gruesome series remarkable: Bowden traces what happened when—who got shot where, shrieked, said what, shot whom, with what—with striking clarity. We imagine that spelling out each thread in the bloody narrative was a feat of structuring and planning, not to mention reporting.
As we read, we became interested in the restricted and shifting point of view from which we experienced the story. Bowden changes POV often, moves from one character to the next, and often restricts POV to that character. The technique is effective: It means the reader experiences much of the action, and each of the concurrent threads of action, more closely and clearly. A grimmer observation: We came to anticipate who would survive and who die based on whose point of view Bowden wrote from.
We welcomed the few sections where the POV shifts to Somali characters. Journalistically, this lends the series more legitimacy; Bowden sought varied perspectives. It also gives a more complete picture of this particular war, and of war and warfare in general. We were eager for a larger understanding of why the terrible battle occurred. Bowden gives us some insight into this larger picture; we’d have welcomed more. We’re not talking so much about analysis of why the battle happens (Bowden offers that in a sort of postscript); we wanted more narrative perspective from the Somalis themselves.
On a related note, we were interested in Bowden’s choice to give little or no background, no breaks from the relentless action. We found it difficult to persevere through the series (we recognize this is partly a matter of taste). On the other hand, we guess that the relentlessness of the action drives home the hell of war in a way that varying the pace might not have done.
Read “Black Hawk Down,” by Mark Bowden