cover image What the Taliban Told Me

What the Taliban Told Me

Ian Fritz. Simon & Schuster, $29.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-6680-1069-3

Fritz holds nothing back in this raw and engrossing debut memoir about his experiences in Afghanistan as a cryptologic linguist for the U.S. Air Force. Raised by his single mother in Lake City, Fla., Fritz had to work long hours in a Chinese restaurant to help ensure that his family’s utility bills were paid. Exhaustion resulted in subpar grades, despite his academic promise and love of literature, and Fritz was rejected from every college he applied to. In 2007, he followed up on an Army recruiter’s high school presentation about becoming a cryptic linguist, and was accepted to the Air Force’s language school in Monterey, Calif., where he learned Dari, the official language of Afghanistan. In 2011, Fritz arrived in Afghanistan, and soon began listening to suspected Taliban fighters’ communications while flying above them in massive military aircraft, tasked with determining in real time who was a threat and who was an innocent civilian. Over time, Fritz grew horrified by the deaths his work facilitated and increasingly dubious about the war’s goals, having become attuned to the humanity of “enemy” forces by spending so long listening to their mundane exchanges. His mental turmoil led to thoughts of suicide and a decision to leave the military. After Fritz graduated from Columbia University, he went to medical school and became a physician. The grim subject matter is often leavened by welcome humor, and Fritz’s slow-moving evolution from soldier to healer is profoundly moving. This is a standout wartime memoir. Agents: Claudia Cross and Frank Weimann, Folio Literary. (Nov.)