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Following a desperate night-long battle, a group of beleaguered soldiers in an isolated base in Kandahar are faced with a lone woman demanding the return of her brother’s body. Is she a spy, a black widow, a lunatic, or is she what she claims to be: a grieving young sister intent on burying her brother according to local rites? Single-minded in her mission, she refuses to move from her spot on the field in full view of every soldier in the stark outpost. Her presence quickly proves dangerous as the camp’s tense, claustrophobic atmosphere comes to a boil when the men begin arguing about what to do next.
Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya’s heartbreaking and haunting novel, The Watch, takes a timeless tragedy and hurls it into present-day Afghanistan. Taking its cues from the Antigone myth, Roy-Bhattacharya brilliantly recreates the chaos, intensity, and immediacy of battle, and conveys the inevitable repercussions felt by the soldiers, their families, and by one sister. The result is a gripping tour through the reality of this very contemporary conflict, and our most powerful expression to date of the nature and futility of war.
Praise for The Watch:
“We watch as the resistance of an isolated American garrison in Afghanistan is ground down, not by force of arms but by the will of a single unarmed woman, holding inflexibly to an idea of what is just and right.”
–J.M. Coetzee, recipient of the Nobel Prize and a two-time Man Booker Prize winner
“Roy-Bhattacharya re-animates the timeless themes of Antigone…This brave, visceral novel breaks new ground and does what previous versions of Antigone never have: It makes each character deeply humane, challenging the reader to sympathize with every one of them.” –NPR.org
“[The novel] achieves a subtle balance of dramatic forces—personal morality and public order, duty to God and duty to country—that gives it a philosophical depth and wrenching humanity…Mr. Roy-Bhattacharya brings a rigorous and often disquieting sense of empathy to each of his clashing characters. There is no outright villain here, only the collision of people stubbornly holding to what they believe to be right and honorable. This is the essence of tragedy, and it makes The Watch the first great novel of the war in Afghanistan.” –Wall Street Journal
“Every war spawns its major literary works, and Roy-Bhattacharya’s powerful, modern take on the Afghanistan armed conflict resonates with the echoes of Joseph Heller, Tim O’Brien, and Robert Stone.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Difficult to put down, powerful, eloquent, and even haunting.” –Booklist, starred review
“Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya's lyrical and poignant evocation of war is a potent reminder of the murderous futility of our imperial adventures in the Middle East. He captures the raw brutality of industrial warfare, along with its trauma, senselessness, random death and stupidity. His characters, including the soldiers who prosecute the war and the innocents whose lives are maimed and destroyed by it, are consumed alike in the vast orgy of death that sweeps across war zones to extinguish all that is human –tenderness, compassion, understanding and finally love. He forces us to face the evil we do to others and to ourselves.”
–Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author of NBCC finalist War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning
“Masterful novel...The book is particularly strong on men in combat, their bloodlust and their emotional frailty. A powerful reading experience.” –Sydney Morning Herald
“A poignant and important book about one of the defining events of the start of the 21st century; it is devastatingly eloquent and unequivocal about the fact that there is no glory or beauty in war.”
–Fatima Bhutto, author of Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter’s Memoir
“An important book for our times, in which one woman’s determination and refusal to consent sets an example of courage and honesty.”
–Giles Foden, author of The Last King of Scotland and Turbulence
“The Watch is a powerful tale, courageous both in concept and creation: an ancient tale made modern, passed through different narrators in extraordinary shape shifting prose that makes this not just an important novel, but a remarkable read.”
–Aminatta Forna, author of Orange Prize shortlisted The Memory of Love
“You will remember her voice, this Afghan Antigone! You will remember this American First Sergeant, and this American First Lieutenant! What a masterpiece of the art of fiction--proof, if any were needed, that the Muse is real. Author Roy-Bhattacharya, neither Afghan nor American, faithfully sees and hears the good in both sides, and blows us off our feet in the shock wave from their explosive collision.”
–Jonathan Shay MD, PhD, author of Achilles in Vietnam and Odysseus in America
“Merciless and beautiful both, like the Central Asian outpost carved out of sand and war in which it is set, The Watch is a meticulous, gut-wrenching analysis of how we perpetuate violence. It is a reminder that we all--participants and onlookers alike--are complicit in the barbarities of war. It is our responsibility as writers to speak of the cruelty that each of us is capable of: cruelty that in the far-flung desert reaches of the empire, away from public scrutiny, seems to multiply with the wind's breath, like loess grains. Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya fulfills his responsibility superbly.”
–Anna Badkhen, author of Peace Meals: Candy-Wrapped Kalashnikovs and Other War Stories and Waiting for the Taliban
“It is common to speak of certain wars as ‘tragedies,’ with the implication that as terrible as such wars are, no one is to be blamed for them. This astonishing novel reclaims tragedy’s primal roots and locates them in America's occupation of Afghanistan. The Watch is a work of beauty and terror, exacting in its realism, breathtaking in the range of its sympathy, devastating in its judgment.”
–Peter Trachtenberg, author of The Book of Calamities and 7 Tattoos
“The Watch is the most brilliant novel to be written about one of the defining events of the start of the 21st century. With this book, Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya has proved himself to be the modern Norman Mailer. The Watch is a stunning account of war, of the terrifying range of emotions, the despair and the sheer fatigue which men have to endure in combat. It is a must-read for anyone interested in our common humanity and the terrible things we do to each other. The Watch is quite simply superb.” –ABC Brisbane (Australia)
“A striking new novel draws inspiration from classical literature to paint a vivid portrait of modern war. …As good as it is important. Roy-Bhattacharya goes from strength to strength in the closing stages of what develops into a remarkable novel, because of his use of memory filtered through the horrors of the moment. By drawing on classical literature, Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya has fashioned a beautiful and heartfelt lamentation.” –Irish Times
“I felt within Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya’s pages a carefully attuned mind examining and analyzing all sides of the Afghanistan debate, an attitude found less frequently in fiction than in drama. It is a relief to hear it again in this novel, as the boundaries blur between good and bad, between new and old, between audience and actors, between them and us.” –Black Balloon