One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to keep better track of what I read. Another was to blog more often. Combining the two, I decided to write short reviews of books as I read them. This is my first one. I’d love to hear what books you’ve been reading, especially if you’ve read anything you’d like to recommend!
Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya’s The Watch opens with a teenage girl who trespasses onto a military base in contemporary war-torn Afghanistan to bury her brother. The story of her brother’s death and her trespass are recounted by multiple voices, including many from the American military personnel and an Afghani interpreter.
Though the novel borrows it central premise from Antigone, it is about more than the problem of institutional forces infringing on personal rights. The most moving moment is when the American soldiers misunderstand the young girl’s peace offering—a slaughtered lamb—as a threat of violence. The cultural chasm and the losses everyone in the story has weathered leave them unable to comprehend each other, despite the best efforts of the interpreter.
I was intrigued by The Watch because I didn’t get the feeling that its setting was picked as a money-making gimmick. After reading it, I stand by that. It’s a thoughtful novel that grapples with the psychology of war and what it means that the people fighting our wars are very young men, prohibited from questioning the orders they receive and ill-equipped to do so. That said, I didn’t enjoy the book. It would have benefitted from fewer voices and more character development, especially because many of the soldiers’ stories were very similar. But my biggest problem with The Watch was the dialogue. I mean, have you recently encountered nineteen year-old American boys who say things like ‘I’ve no money in the bank’ or who say ‘Sarn’t’ instead of ‘Sergeant’? The strange diction made the characters seem inauthentic. Trying to imagine them speaking like this distracted me from the story. In the end, all I could imagine was that Roy-Bhattacharya didn’t spend much time talking to the young men on the front lines of the war he wrote about.