Magazine article World Literature Today

The Watch

Magazine article World Literature Today

The Watch

Article excerpt

Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya. The Watch. New York. Hogarth. 2012. isbn 9780307955890

At the beginning of The Watch, Nizam, a young woman from a mountain village in Afghanistan, arrives in a clearing outside a US outpost, using her hands to push the rickety cart carrying her legless body over the rough terrain. To the troops, who recently took casualties during a raid on their outpost, Nizam poses an unprecedented problem. Like Antigone, she demands the corpse of her brother from an unrelenting ruler so that she can perform burial rites. More profoundly, her presence as a woman in terrain defined by the actions of Afghan and foreign men transcends any security risk she might pose- perhaps as a suicide bomber, perhaps as a lure to get soldiers in range of insurgent snipers-and calls into question the very humanity of the men waging war in her country. In the novel's first chapter, Nizam articulates the quandary she poses. After a soldier watching her bury a body in the clearing makes the sign of the cross, Nizam thinks, "It's a small indication of humanity. And yet, all afternoon, I smell the inhuman scent of their guns."

Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya writes each chapter of this novel from the point of view of a different character. In all except two chapters, the novel represents the war in Afghanistan from the perspective of the Americans who find themselves in almost surreal conditions, marked not only by extremes in climate and cultural difference but also by sleep deprivation and haunted dreams that frequently transpose combat and domestic experiences. …

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