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Norman “Doc” Rodgers suspects he won’t make it out of this one alive. He’s a young combat medic in Afghanistan in 2007, eager to avenge his father’s death in the World Trade Center, and make sense of a new world that feels like it’s fallen to pieces. His only solace is in a barely concealed addiction to the precious opiates he’s supposed to dole out sparingly to those beyond aid. In this tautly-plotted debut novel, Brandon Caro, a veteran who served in Afghanistan, tells the story of a soldier’s undoing in raw, incendiary, hypnotic prose that forces us to ask ourselves what we know of the futility of war, and what other outcome we can expect.

The heat in Laghman Province is unsparing; the conflict, relentless. Haunted by hallucinatory encounters with Pat Tillman, the pro football player who gave up everything to serve his country and was in turn killed by friendly fire; an arrow-stricken Victorian surgeon in service to the British East India Company, and Genghis Khan himself, Doc is forced to take the measure of how centuries of occupation and invasion have created the circumstances of the present day.


“If this all sounds convoluted, that’s because it is. It’s meant to be. And war literature should be challenging. But Caro is far from self-indulgent here; the disorientation he engenders in the reader is carefully orchestrated, and he rises to a challenge [Tim] O’Brien lays down in The Things They Carried: ‘It comes down to gut instinct. A true war story, if truly told, makes the stomach believe.’ Old Silk Road does make the stomach believe.” ––David Duhr, The Texas Observer (January 2016 print issue)

“A Year of Reading: Best First Lines of 2015” –– David Abrams, The Quivering Pen

“follows a road less traveled in contemporary war novels… enjoy riding shotgun.” –– J. Ford Huffman, Military Times

“Reading Old Silk Road brought back in spades styles, themes, and characters I encountered in early American stories. The hyper-skittishness about honor and sleights exemplified by the berserk protagonists of novels by Charles Brockden Brown and John Neal. The picaresque road trip of Hugh Henry Brackenridge’s Modern Chivalry. The odd ruptures of the time-space-body continuum and racial paranoia of Robert Montgomery Byrd’s Sheppard Lee. The sensational booze-induced hallucinations of temperance author T.S. Arthur’s Six Nights with the Washingtonians and Ten Nights in a Bar-Room. The exposé of extravagantly sinister and corrupt power à la George Lippard’s The Quaker City. Read Old Silk Roadalongside Paul Gutjahr’s anthology Popular American Fiction of the 19th Century and David Reynolds’ Beneath the American Renaissance if you don’t believe me. Judging by the literary record, people circa 1835 walked around half-addled by bad water or bad whiskey. Old Silk Road has the same manic, crazy-quilt energy. It’s not interested in propriety or what’s come before and it’s capable of anything. Alarming as it is to think of the drugs that are doing the damage today, especially against the backdrop of military duty, in the great war-writing game Old Silk Road asserts the value of raw idiosyncrasy in the face of more mannered and literary approaches.” –– Peter Molin, Time Now

“Most contemporary war narratives have tried to carve out some capital-M meaning from such notions as patriotism, brotherhood or at least noble sacrifice. Not so in Old Silk Road, the viscerally bracing and inventive debut novel from Brandon Caro, a former Navy corpsman who served for a year in Afghanistan as an advisor to the Afghan National Army. The book stands out for its relentlessly bleak and essentially nihilistic depiction of the American mission in Afghanistan, which could have only come from someone with first-hand experience… In its laying bare the many deceptions of our war in Afghanistan, this novel is not light reading. But for anyone of this generation or those forthcoming who wants to know what being there felt like, Caro has offered an invaluable primary document that illuminates a violent hall of our history in the way that only fiction can.” ––Nicholas Mancusi, Miami Herald

“Old Silk Road ends with an unexpected plot twist and an emotional wallop. Caro takes a risk in using such a twist, but the risk pays off. Old Silk Road becomes more than a documentary account of the Afghan conflict. It becomes a visionary novel of moral reckoning, destined to take its place among modern war classics.” ––Scott Neuffer, Foreword

“Caro’s Old Silk Road is fast, hard, jarring, and leaves you longing for closure and resolution — two things that war rarely brings — until you finally get it in the novel’s last few chapters and are no longer sure that’s what you wanted. All said, Old Silk Road is a compelling account of what war feels like, reading like a dying man’s last dream, with its end bringing both blissful release and genuine remorse.” —James Clark, Task & Purpose

“Old Silk Road is an important addition to post-9/11 war literature. While the message in the hands of others could have been pedantic or whining, Caro is a skilled writer and presents a statement that is not anti-soldier and not anti-American, but clearly anti-war.” —Peter Van Buren, The Huffington Post

“a fresh and promising novel set in Afghanistan by an equally fresh and promising writer who also happens to be a war veteran” ––David Abrams, The Quivering Pen

“Brandon Caro’s debut novel, Old Silk Road, is built on a hallucinatory realism, as if only hallucinations could be equal to the horror, the insanity, the dark comedy of our ongoing imperial adventure in Afghanistan. All that is very skillful. But at the core of the book is a deep sadness only a true writer could reach. A memorable debut in the most literal sense: It will stay with you.” —John Benditt, author of The Boatmaker

“If Afghanistan is indeed haunted by centuries of brutal warfare dating from the time of Genghis Khan, as Doc Rodgers, the morphine addict/medic narrator of Old Silk Road, suggests, then Brandon Caro is nothing less than a ghost whisperer. His haunting debut is one of the definitive novels of the Afghanistan War.” — Greg Olear, author of Totally Killer and Fathermucker

“In our era of yellow ribbon patriotism and collective detachment from America’s brushfire wars, Brandon Caro’s Old Silk Road should serve as an IV of truth for any citizen still trying to give a damn. In tight, gritty prose, Caro taps into deep emotional veins the way only fiction allows for, and his drug-addled anti-hero Doc is as distinct a protagonist I’ve yet come across in post-9/11 war literature. Care about the consequences of America’s foreign adventures? Read this novel.” –– Matt Gallagher, author of Kaboom

“An expertly built portrait of Afghanistan, saturated with tales of addiction, lifesaving, life taking, and the confusing logic of what it can take to survive. Brandon Caro has penned a smart collision of dream and nightmare, a harrowing jaunt through the psychological and physical chaos of modern war.” –– Maxwell Neely-Cohen, author of Echo of the Boom

“A caustic, inventive, often wildly surreal trip through the American war in Afghanistan, from the hell of the present to the hell of history. It’s all here: the heat, the fear, the confusion, the madness, the drugs, the looming shadow of 9/11, and the ghost of Pat Tillman. An original, surprising work.” –– Stephen Wright, author of Going Native

“Set in Afghanistan and Texas, this dark, gripping novel unfolds mostly within the mind, feelings, actions, reactions and hallucinations of a young U.S. Army medic who treats combat casualties while addicted to opiates. The Austin author, a former U.S. Navy corpsman, spent two years in Afghanistan as a combat medic and adviser to the Afghan National Army. Two cautions: This book is not for the squeamish.” ––Dallas Morning News