Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya tackles the uncomfortable topic of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. In telling the story of a young Afghani woman who only wants to claim her slain’s brother’s body so she can give him a proper burial, he draws out the real heart of the conflict: who is the enemy and just who is the defender? I like this book, despite the heavy Antigone references (which, I’ll admit, I had to look up) because it feels real. Not just in terms of dialogue- which is peppered with Army slang, American slang and, of course, those long passages where Lt. Nick Frobenius quotes directly from Antigone; but also, in the way that the soldiers, both American and Afghani, deal with ethical and moral dilemmas. We see, for instance, how the Americans mistrust the Afghani soldiers, the cultural complexity that is Afghanistan, the difficulty of telling the Taliban from other Afghani fighters.
Actually, now that I’m writing about it, I’d really like to read a story from the Afghani perspective. If you have any recommendations, let me know.
The Watch will make you dizzy with a narrative that circles a central event but spirals off every now and the into these hallucinatory nightmares, dreams and fantasies of the characters who are suffering in their own way. There is loss of life, love and limb- and in the end, we are still no closer to understanding the war or the events that are taking place inside it but what we do get a glimpse of is the humanity that survives even in the desert.
Below is an excerpt, click here to read the full review at Hyphen Magazine:
“When Nizam, a crippled Afghani woman, arrives at an American military base looking for her brother Yusuf’s body, she sets off a chain of events that tests the convictions of the soldiers. As they speculate over whether she’s a Trojan horse, a spy sent by the Taliban, or whether she is simply what she says she is — a sister who wants to bury her brother’s body — Nizam holds her ground, refusing to leave without Yusuf’s body. Meanwhile, the war, or rather, the waiting and watching that characterizes the war in Afghanistan, is taking its toll on the soldiers. In many ways, The Watch is a classic anti-war narrative. Bhattacharya takes great pains to paint a realistic portrayal of war, the camaraderie between the men, and the emotional support that they so badly need from one another.”
Here is the book trailer, because it’s a thing people do these days. I may be the last person left on earth who’d rather skim a written review than watch a trailer unfold second by second… ha.