The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya

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The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A thoughtful, originally written novel highlighting the dilemma of the forces and those around them in Afghanistan, showing us what happens before the results reach the news.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: May 2013
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0099565772

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Nizam pushes a barrow up to a fortified US army base in Afghanistan. What is she doing there? How will the soldiers react? What do they believe: their experience, their training, their gut reaction or a young girl amputee in the middle of the desert who may be the last thing they ever see?

The Watch is one of a trilogy of novels that Indian writer Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya is writing based on the US and Afghanistan and addressing the tension between the west and Islam. Loosely taking the classical story of Antigone as its starting point, Joydeep's novel should carry a warning: if you never want to be touched or affected by a book, don't read The Watch. For, if you do, it may affect view of both sides of the conflict as it continues to haunt you.

The novel's premise is similar to the army recruitment ads that were on British TV a few years ago. Viewers were shown half a scenario, asked what they would do and then shown the outcome. In this case the scenario is Nizam begging for the body of her dead brother, killed by the US military in a fire-fight. We're then shown various viewpoints, mind-sets and backgrounds of some of the garrison while we think about whom we believe and what should be done in answer to Nizam's plea. The viewpoints shift and so our judgement and perception shift with them so that eventually nothing is a foregone conclusion or an easy option.

Ismene the interpreter works for the army but straddles the line between his Afghan heritage and his paymasters'. He tries to interpret the local way of life to the foreigners as well as the language but to a battle weary, nerve shredded few he's as bad as 'they' are.

The second lieutenant is poised behind his sniper's rifle just in case while remembering his disappointed father who wanted a son to take over the family lobster fishing business rather than a potential national hero. Then there's Lieutenant Nick Frobenius, only 24 but while he fights for a nation's future, his world at home crumbles.

And so it goes on, chapter by chapter we meet and are enveloped by the cast who will decide what happens. We understand their frustration. We wince as they read the history of Afghanistan knowing that others have failed to beat its guerrilla fighters over centuries of blood loss, not just decades. Not all of whom we read will make it to the end but we, like they, don't know who will be next as their thoughts of their past pervade their waking moments as thoughts of their present pervades their nightmares.

The Watch even-handedly brings together an understanding of both sides while making us wonder what if it could be this generation's Viet Nam. I dare anyone to read this touching but brutal book and complete the final sentence with the same feelings about Afghanistan as when they read the first.

If you would like to read more fiction that opens the door to understanding modern conflicts, we recommend The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers from a soldier's viewpoint or Burden of the Desert by Justin Huggler from that of a war correspondent.

Buy The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya at Amazon.com.


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