Wednesday, June 13, 2012

REVIEW: The Watch, by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya

The Watch, by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya. Published 2012 by Hogarth Press. ISBN 9780307955890

If you want a book that's going to pull you in a dozen different emotional directions, confuse you, intrigue you, then rip your heart into shreds, The Watch is the book for you. It's a brilliant, multi-dimensional examination of the war in Afghanistan told from different points of view- an Afghan woman, a translator, a military doctor, a commander, and more.

The basic story centers on a troubling, ambiguous incident taking place in the middle of the Kandahar plains. After a brutal firefight between U.S. forces and Afghan insurgents, a lone woman, legless, wheels herself towards a U.S. military outpost to demand the return of her brother's remains for burial. Her brother was killed in the battle and she wants to bury him according to her culture's requirements. A Tajik translator is sent to talk to her, to explain that the U.S. military will not return it to her. They fear that she is a suicide bomber and that she is lying, and they have orders with respect to the body.

The book shifts the point of view among an array of characters- the woman, first, then a lieutenant, then the outpost's doctor, then the translator, and more military personnel, and shifts a little through time, too. We get back story and extended narratives from some of the characters, and we meet the Kandahar storyline at slightly different points on the timeline, too. I liked that Roy-Bhattacharya did not just tell the same story over and over from different points of view Rashomon-style but gives us different segments and facets of the story as well as the characters. Telling the story this way, a little broken up, helped keep it interesting and fresh for me.

Then there's the incident itself, and the woman's intentions, which Roy-Bhattacharya wisely keeps us guessing at right till the end. And I do mean the end, as in the very last words. There's so much going on around this character- so much drama swirling, emotional issues, issues about the nature of military service, the demands on soldiers for obedience, the psychological stress of battlefield life and the specific right- or wrong-ness of the Afghan war- that it's easy to forget that she's what the story is about, that her mission is the embodiment of the mess that is this war. Roy-Bhattacharya draws all of his characters with a devastating humanity- you can't help but feel for all of them, what they're all going through, from the conflicted translator and the overworked doctor and even the rule-bearing commander. But it's this woman who carries the most devastating burden of all.

It's very challenging and not always easy to read in terms of the ideas and psychological complexity of its universe, but it's a really incredible book. It will truly stay with you for a long time after you put it down, and you won't want to. I was not intending to read it to the end when I picked it up; I thought I was just going to be dipping in and maybe coming back later, but Roy-Bhattacharya hooked me from page 1. So here I've written a lot about this book, and in the final analysis what I want to say is that it's a brilliant novel.

Click here for some other recommended reads about Afghanistan.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Random House.

10 comments:

Care said...

Great review! Not sure I would say that I want a book to rip my emotions to shreds but if you say it is worth it, I just might try it. I do like a good cry and I need to learn more about this war. Thank you.

Little Girl Lost said...

A lot of people here in India are talking about Joydeep's book. It's supposedly very well written. Glad you liked it :)
Do visit! and if you like, please follow!

http://riversihaveknown.com/

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

I have to say...this book sounds MUCH better than his previous one. I thought he was supposed to be working on a trilogy--is this the continuation? Because it sounds more like a stand-alone.

hillary roberts said...

I enjoyed your review. This sounds like a book I will like. I will have to check it out.

bermudaonion said...

I love that this book is told from different points of view. This book sounds very thought provoking.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I have found that book written in this way make a huge impact on me. And reminds us that 10 people can see an event 10 different ways. I have to see if my library has this.

Anna said...

You sold me with the first sentence of your review. I'll have to see if my library has this one.

Harvee Lau said...

I don't read many books about the current wars but this one does sound well written and challenging with its multiple points of view. I've put it on my list!

Audra said...

EEe, soooo nervous about this one -- excited -- but nervous. Loved I Am Forbidden so eager to see the rest of Hogarth's offerings -- I'm also excited for The People of Forever something something -- another war-ish novel.

Aarti said...

Oh, so glad this is good! It seems as though Hogarth Press is off to a really strong start! This sounds fantastic, even if it will rip me to shreds.