To the Last Salute
Georg von Trapp
University of Nebraska, 2007, 196 pages, $27.00

In 1918 in the Adriatic a British submarine, assembled in Montreal, sank an Italian submarine, also assembled in Montreal. Unfortunately, the two subs were allies (Italy, expected to be a partner of Germany, had entered the First War on the side of Britain). How could such an error occur?

Just published from a most surprising source is an account of what it was like to fight as a submariner in the Austro-Hungarian navy. From Georg von Trapp, who features in the iconic musical, The Sound of Music, we learn just why Hitler wanted the naval officer we glimpsed in the film in his U-boat service. Trapp was an experienced submarine captain who, among other kills, sank a French cruiser, Leon Gambetta, from the U-5, a gasoline powered submarine.

Through her translation of his 1930 book, Trapp’s grand-daughter has brought to the surface his experience commanding two submarines, one a captured French boat. The book is about Austrian navy submarine life, not statistics; you will not learn that Trapp commanded on 19 patrols and sank 12 merchant ships. Rather, it describes how his U-boat sank the Italian submarine, Nereide, an account that provides an understanding of how one submarine could sink a “friendly.”

The crew of Trapp’s U 5 and the U 14 reflected the ethnic and linguistic mix found in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The empire’s navy disappeared in 1919 when the plethora of new Balkan states took away Austria’s seacoasts.

For anyone wishing to understand more about the Adriatic war from an underwater vantage point, this book is hard to put down.

Forsaken: Afghan Women
Lana Slezic
powerHouse Books, 2007, 128 pages, $46.95

The John Manley-led panel on Afghanistan would have done well during its deliberations to have taken time off to just look at the coloured photos that challenge the viewer on almost every page of this work.

Canadian photographer Lana Selzic spent two years in Afghanistan. Interspersed are words in white on black backgrounds. The print reveals what the snapshots cannot, providing context to some of the pictures. But if the words are too much to take, the message in the images will suffice.

One reason we may consider staying in Afghanistan is to put Canadian “clout” to making Slezic’s dedication come true: “For all Afghan women. May you suffer less.” This book is recommended for males who wouldn’t usually see the faces of Afghan women and who, in many cases, lack the language skills to talk to them.

Paul Clammer, coordinating author
Lonely Planet Publications, 2007, 244 pages, $20.00

Lonely Planet travel guides have a well-deserved reputation for attempting to deliver accurate information. This first guide on Afghanistan, however, offers a different perspective on a country ravaged by war and violence for three decades before a major international intervention in 2001.

The CIA, the militaries, and even the NGOs have their handbooks. This guide, however, offers life and death advice to the Afghanistan traveler, including some special considerations. Hence a chapter dedicated to security.

Since few travelers will be backpackers like the Lonely Planet founder was when he first set foot in the historic but war-torn country, and more likely will be working, there is a chapter dedicated to working in Afghanistan.

The Lonely Planet risk assessment for Kandahar and southern Afghanistan in 2007 is unclassified: “Currently, we do not recommend independent travel. All travel outside Kandahar city and the Spin-Boldak Route is also not recommended.” Bluntly put, if you don’t have to work there, don’t go!

For anyone who trusts the Lonely Planet guides and seeks more information on Afghanistan, this book will serve a useful function. I only wish such a handy guide had been available when I served ten months with the United Nations Good Offices Mission to Afghanistan and Pakistan (UNGOMAP).

Roy Thomas served in Kabul as an unarmed UN military observer; he also patrolled in both Federal and Provincial Tribal Areas along the so-called frontier in 1989.