A close-up of the American war in Afghanistan, Hopeless but Optimistic is about Afghan life on the streets; the culture and institutions that anneal them; the poetry that enriches them. It’s about the perspectives of cynical American careerists and frightened short-timers; true believers and amoral grabbers; Americans and Afghans trying to make sense of two countries surreally contorted by war-birthed extractive commerce.
During his research, Wissing embedded in the volatile insurgent-controlled Afghan-Pakistani borderlands, including anarchic Helmand Province, where the Taliban hold sway. Sharing the physical and emotional pain of American soldiers far from home, he witnessed maladroit development and failed counterinsurgency. Through Wissing’s exploration of the Afghans’ eternal resilience and long-sustained, Afghan-appropriate aid organizations, his story arcs from cynicism to a hard-won equanimity.