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What We’re Reading: The Watch

Post by Elizabeth Coleman
Posted September 20, 2013 in NoveList Bookshelf, NoveList Plus

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The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya
ISBN: 9780307955890

My love for mythology drew me to Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya 's The Watch, a powerful retelling of the Antigone story set in contemporary Afghanistan. Roy-Bhattacharya 's Antigone is Nazim, a young Afghan girl, legless and alone, and King Creon's army is the American military. Antigone 's more prudent sister Ismene is the translator Masood, who believes in the nobility of the American cause but is wary of the military's actions. When Nazim demands that the American soldiers release her brother's remains for proper burial, they refuse on the grounds that he is a member of the Taliban. The soldiers plan to send the body away for proper identification, but Nazim, sitting in the kill zone and adamant that her brother is not Talib, refuses to leave without him. Although the original Greek myth is a constant shadow throughout the story, it is not necessary to be familiar with it to appreciate this deftly written novel about cultural misunderstandings and the horrors of war.

One of the things I most enjoyed about The Watch is that Roy-Bhattacharya makes sure that everyone's story is told. The first chapter is devoted to Nazim's point-of-view. The reader learns why and how she comes to be at the American outpost. Subsequent chapters are told from other viewpoints and slowly lead back to the critical moment. Flashbacks are also used to show how and why the soldiers have come to be in Afghanistan fighting this war. Although some readers may find this method of storytelling confusing, I believe that by giving a voice to each side, Roy-Bhattacharya more accurately portrays the complexity of the situation. The soldiers, for instance, are not shown as mindless killing machines; they have real lives and concerns beyond the outpost's walls. This thought-provoking read is sure to ignite a powerful discussion about war, humanity, and what connects us. Recommended by Elizabeth Coleman.