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The Watch

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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.

304 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2012

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About the author

Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya

7 books35 followers
Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya was educated in politics and philosophy at Presidency College, Calcutta, and the University of Pennsylvania. His novels The Gabriel Club and The Storyteller of Marrakesh have been published in fourteen languages. He lives in the Hudson Valley in upstate New York.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 286 reviews
Profile Image for Naeem.
388 reviews234 followers
September 19, 2012
Dear Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya,

I threw your book down on the floor after finishing it and yelled, “No! no! no!”

The first chapter is perhaps one of the most brilliant I have read: tight, exact, culturally specific, and with momentum that propelled me through the rest of the book. The chapter alone is worth reading the book.

Alas, it is the only good chapter.

There are so many things wrong with your book that I don’t know where to start. Let me go through the list:

- Antigone? You want to start and end the book with passages written in Greek from Sophocles’ Antigone? Why not something from Rumi? Why not something that emerges from the land you write about? The Greek opening should have been my first clue about your academic pretensions. Oh, so cleverly you mention how Alexander occupied this area. But that allusion is not nearly enough to justify your distance from Afghan culture and its landscape.

- Why only two chapters devoted to non-US characters? The first one and the fourth one on the Tajik interpreter. These two are the weakest in providing details of the back story. The six chapters on you US characters provide family portraits, cultural accents, full landscapes, memories, and the heartache of actual relationships. But do our only two Afghan characters get a similar treatment? Not nearly. Is that a failure of imagination? Is it strategy that acknowledges your readers’ consumption needs? Is it a devaluation of others’ lives? How dare you.

- And even in the chapters on the US characters – you have them giving speeches that might come from political blogs. I just did not believe the words you put in their mouths. Nor did I feel I learned anything about them, about war, about Afghanistan, or about this particular intervention.

- The narrative drive you develop in the first chapter not only stalls, it dies. I found myself skimming your novel. At some point, I realized the only thing you had left was the plot. And that too, I found not worth my consideration.

- I feel cheated. I want those hours of my life back. But I did learn one thing about you. I understand you went from academia to novel writing. You missed your calling. Your book has the heartlessness and lifelessness of academic pretension. Form, form, form – but not the rich life of human beings either actual or fictional.

Can I say even one thing positive? Yes, your book was still better than Kite Runner or Exploding Mangoes. But not even close to Wasted Vigil. Perhaps you can take another stab at writing a book on Afghanistan. I recommend some reading first: on the life of soldiers, Zinky Boys; on how an outsider can learn to love Afghanistan, An Unexpected Light; on how to develop robust characters who emerge from actual history, The Wasted Vigil; on the multiple and contradictory meaning of war to soldiers, J. Glenn Gray’s The Warriors reflections on men in battle; on how to write war fiction that feels real, The Things they Carried; on how to properly use the multiple perspectives form, War in the Land of Egypt.

I am sure writing this novel was a fun exercise for you. But I need an author who can pretend that something is at stake in the actual world.

Your fellow academic,

1 review
July 13, 2012
This book broke my heart.

On a personal note, I lived and worked in Afghanistan in the zeroes, mostly in Kabul, and and the locals always struck me as good, simple, hospitable people. What is now happening in that country is terrible, and this is the first book I've read that shows both sides of the story, without taking sides, which makes it different from almost all the Western and especially American accounts I've read about the war. I've tried to keep up with the friends I made there, who're all quite apprehensive about what will happen when the troops pull out, including our Canadian troops, and it almost persuades me to go back, even though I know I can't. A book like this brings it all back to me.

Nizam is one of those unforgettable characters that will stay with me long after I've read the book. Even if she is only present in the beginning, her personality haunts the book exactly as she influenced the soldiers who dealt with her. I found this remarkable.

Most of all, I think the author has brought out in subtle ways those aspects of Western military and civilian perceptions of the local Afghans, be they Pashtun or Tajik, which are very painful to admit to. I have studied Afghan culture for many years, and must say that never before have I experienced such a sympathetic and sensitive understanding and respect for its good qualities.

I read the Knopf Canada edition of the book.
Profile Image for Jon.
179 reviews33 followers
May 14, 2016
Following a fierce battle, a lone Afghan woman, Nizam, approaches an isolated American base in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan and demands that the body of the dead insurgent leader be given to her for burial. The dead man is her brother and it is her responsibility, as the last surviving member of his family, to insure he is buried according to their customs. Unfortunately, since he has been ordered to hold the body until it can be transported to Kabul, the base commander refuses her request. Thus starts a two-day standoff between the tense and suspicious Americans and the determined woman at their gates in this updating of Sophocles’ Antigone. I have a few quibbles, but overall, the updating of the story works well and the new setting gives it additional poignancy and immediacy.

This is an anti-war novel and few things in the novel are black and white. Roy-Bhattacharya is even handed in his portrayal of his characters and their motivations and both sides in the conflict are given their due. Initially thought to be Taliban, the base’s attackers are actually local anti-Taliban tribesmen seeking payback for a drone attack by the Americans, who, for their part, had been manipulated and given false intel by a corrupt local official out to eliminate rivals. Each chapter in the book is narrated by a different character (with one chapter consisting of the journal entries of an earlier narrator). Each character is given a unique voice and their chapters usually include some of their back-story to flesh out their characters and humanize them. Both Afghan and American voices are heard and the American voices run the gamut from idealistic:

“And that’s why I make it a point to tell everyone back home that I’m at the epicenter of the place where the forces of fascism - of religious fundamentalism, societal repression, and violent hatred – must be contained. When I’m challenged about the consequences of my actions, I ask the person to look me in the eye and ask if he or she truly believes that peace would return and the condition of the women and children, especially, would improve if we decided to leave this place”

to disillusioned:

“I do know this much: if she turns out to be a suicide bomber, it won’t be because she hates our religion. I mean, I don’t even have a fucking religion. It’ll be because we whacked her brother and we’re in her country. How difficult is that to understand? When you kill people and wipe out their families, strafe their homes and burn down their villages, litter their fields with fragmentation bombs and gun down their livestock, you’ve lost the whole fucking battle for hearts and minds. I mean, who’re we trying to kid? Ourselves? Is it any wonder they’re fighting back? We’re not winning this war; we’re creating lifelong enemies. It’s time to admit that our own leadership has ring-fenced us with lies”

The book isn’t without some flaws. On a few occasions, the debates are overdone and the characters teeter on the edge of simply becoming mouthpieces for the author. In addition, Roy-Bhattacharya milks the Antigone references for all they’re worth (and then some). The book starts and ends with a quote from Antigone, Nizam’s chapter is titled “Antigone”, one of the American officers meets his wife during a college production of the play, etc. It ends up being unsubtle and overkill.

Like the original play it’s based on, The Watch is a tragedy. It’s an anti=war novel that is powerful and often moving as it depicts decent people caught up in the insanity of war. As Kurtz says at the end of Apocalypse Now:

“The horror…the horror”
Profile Image for Dianne.
559 reviews908 followers
June 1, 2017
** $1.99 on Amazon today June 1, 2017 for Kindle! **

I LOVED this, but not sure it would be to everyone's taste. Read the blurb and other reviews first. If you liked "The Yellow Birds" or "Deployment," you may like this.
1 review
May 10, 2012
Lana says:

I already knew from reading The Gabriel Club that Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya doesn’t just tell a story: he puts you at the heart of it and opens your senses to its pulsating life. So that’s what I was looking for when I read The Watch, and that’s what I got. But I hadn’t anticipated that the life it opened to would be quite so devastating. I knew by the description that the story takes place in war torn Afghanistan, so I expected it to disturb: war stories do disturb. But Roy-Bhattacharya’s unfolding sequence of distinct narrative voices pulsates the life of an American military outpost in the Afghan desert in a way that changes consciousness in the reader. Unless you’ve been there yourself, whatever you thought you knew about the Afghan war vanishes.

This happens because you live the war from inside the consciousness of seven different narrators. This doesn’t mean just getting varied perspectives on a single event, multiple angles that require piecing together to form a complete picture. Rather, narrator after narrator, you come to feel what each feels. That’s the disturbance: no authorial voice tells you what you are supposed to think. Neither does any single narrator sound more reliable than the next. You may feel a greater affinity with some characters than with others, but you still know that every one of them is telling his or her own pure truth. What makes this devastating is the constant reassessments of the situation that each character keeps making yet cannot match up with their real time perceptions: constant and precise yet still uncertain reassessments by the soldiers, by the commanding officer, by the medic, the translator, the lieutenant. And by the strange burqa-clad figure whose arrival a day after a bloody firefight sets the already strung-out military company even more on edge.

In this tense stand-off, what the reader gets from each narrator is inevitably partial, differently so for every voice, human in its limitations, stripped of societal pretense: voices spontaneous as expletives or unbidden prayers. Hearing these voices, seeing through these eyes, feeling through these senses, the reader discovers that what might before have seemed good enough for rationalizing the Afghan war no longer feels tolerable: there can be no justification for any of these people, regardless of allegiances, to simply get wasted.

To read The Watch is to witness unraveling of justified warfare, when those who live the reality of it find it to be not so much a noble cause as a desperate struggle to survive. The storyline is simple and the action brief: in The Watch, every voice becomes the title character, suspended in that immanence, tensed by hair trigger uncertainty about what will happen next. By living in the mind of each narrator, you realize that on the deepest human level, you yourself could be any of them, and you want every one of them to survive. The futility of war as a tool for solving human problems could not be made more palpable. This moving book makes real not only what it means for human lives to be sacrificed in war, but also why such wanton sacrifice must end.
Profile Image for Megan27.
1 review
July 20, 2012
Along with the dark humor of Satantango by the contemporary Hungarian writer Laszlo Krasnahorkai, The Watch is my best read of the year without a doubt.

The story is simple and stark. A young Afghan woman, mutilated in a drone attack that killed the rest of her family, appears before a remote US outpost to ask for the return of her brother's body. Trouble is, her brother led an overnight attack on the outpost that resulted in his own death and that of the rest of his band, but not before the soldiers in the outpost had taken casualties. The survivors are bitter, and led by their captain, want to dismiss the woman's request out of hand. Undeterred, she refuses to budge, and keeps a vigil that lasts two days and nights.

In the end, her determination sows dissent in the American ranks. The captain gives way, but that sets up an unnerving scenario for when the soldiers approach her. Is she a suicide bomber, or is her request genuine. Cultural misunderstandings add to the uncertainty.

What makes the book riveting is that each chapter is told in a different voice. Through this multitude of voices, we come to grips with the stresses that soldiers have to go through in wartime. What is special about The Watch is that Roy-Bhattacharya ensures that at least some of the soldiers have not lost their humanity, despite the unbelievable tension, and despite having lost their comrades in battle. Each soldier's voice comes through as entirely credible and I often had the feeling of being a fly on the wall.

The Watch is an enormously thought-provoking read, and I highly recommend it. It leaves me with the uneasy feeling that we have entirely lost our way as a nation. There is very little to salvage from the continuous loss in lives from our foreign adventures.
Profile Image for Clif Hostetler.
1,076 reviews711 followers
February 9, 2017
This novel provides a creatively constructed contrast between the horror and the humanity of war. By using a combination of the plot used in Sophocles' Antigone, and the first person narrative of seven different individuals who participated in a firefight at an isolated base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, the narrative reveals the human side of the agony brought by war.

The similarities between this book and Antigone is not subtle. The references to classical Greek plays occur in every chapter of the book. Improbably, most of the young American soldiers in the story seem to be familiar with these Greek plays. It's clear that the author of this book wants the story to be tied to some of the earliest stories from human history that address the interface of humanity and the cruelty of war.

The opening chapter of the book begins with a lone Pashtun woman arriving at the edge of the military base and demands the return of her brother’s body who was killed in the battle. She claims to be the grieving younger sister intent on burying her brother according to local rites. From her first-person narrative we learn that she is the sole survivor of her family following an air attack on her village from an American airplane several months earlier. Her legs were lost during the attack and she has reached the base by pushing herself on a wheeled cart. Her plea for her brother's body has turned the psychology of war on its head.

The base is not given permission to release the body because orders from military headquarters in Kabul insist that the body is to be returned for positive identification as an important rebel leader. Tensions develop among the ranks of the soldiers because of disagreements concerning how to respond to the woman.

This situation inserts a sense of humanity into a war environment that normally requires viewing the enemy as something less than human. War can't continue if the enemy is truly human. This quandary begins to cause dissension and disagreements among the American soldiers on what to do about the woman.

The narrative is well constructed by introduction of an element of uncertainty in the first chapter that isn't resolved until the very end.
Profile Image for Jessica.
321 reviews30 followers
June 9, 2012
Wow. I really wanted to like this book. There is almost nothing in the world of fiction about the war in Afghanistan, and that complicated place is begging for a way to be understood - or not understood, as the case may be. Roy-Bhattacharya seemed like a good candidate to introduce people to the complexities of that land, and to the Americans who have now been laboring there for more than a decade. But he fails. Technically, all the pieces are in place: bewildered, working-class grunts; exhausted NCO's; family members of the fallen with nothing but relief on their minds. There's a suicide victim, a raring to get back in the game injured soldier, and lots of love lost all over the damn place. But, ugh! The proselytizing and preachiness of this book nearly drove me insane. It was all I could do to finish it. The writing is just terrible, and it's clear that Roy-Batthacharya has never been around veterans for any length of time. He puts words and ideas into their mouths that are eye-rolling, groan inspiring - altogether embarrassing. Even if these guys did think this stuff, they'd never, ever say it this way, and certainly not to the people they say it to here. Marks for having all the ideas in place, but the execution leaves oh! so much to be desired. If you're looking for something to help you understand the intimacy and futility of war, read Matterhorn. Even though it's about Vietnam and not Afghanistan, you'll get a much better feel for the questions and destruction that war leaves in its wake.
June 10, 2012
The stuff of everyday headlines these days and very possibly the best book I've read on the current wars. On the edge, driven, taut, and by far the best depiction of American soldiers on the front line. In many ways a mixture of Jarhead and War, it takes you straight into the fighting, bleeding, dying. In simple, direct language, with just the kind of 24/7 unexpected situations you face in combat.

So what do you do when you're faced with a civilian who turns up just when you've survived a vicious battle and then refuses to go away? You're far from your supply lines, you're exhausted and downright at the end of your ropes because of the casualties you've taken. You're not clear about your rules of engagement which change all the time. Your captain's erratic, maybe because he's dead-tired, your best officers are dead, your men want to be left alone to mourn or they're completely used up. By the end of the book you're part of the exhausted and isolated company, and you have to choose a side and take a decision. Risk your men and live, or do the right thing and possibly die? What do you do in a country where every civilian is a possible trap? What do you do when your war-fighting training is Vietnam-era and COIN isn't working? That's the situation our soldiers are facing today.

This book will stay with me for a long time. It's right up there with David Finkel's "The Good Soldiers" as a chronicle of war. Hellishly well-written. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Doug Bremner.
Author 8 books50 followers
June 24, 2012
The Watch, a new novel by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, is an interesting story of war and conflict told from multiple perspectives. It starts out with the story of a disabled girl who has her entire family to bombing in Afghanistan, who takes a long journey to retrieve the body of her brother, who was recently killed leading an assault on a base in Kandahar. She camps outside the base for days waiting for the soldiers to release the body for burial, which they have orders not to do. This story interweaves with other stories of the soldiers on the base, with a realistic portrayal of life in a combat zone, and how the war affects them and their loved ones when they return home. This is an interesting and non-judgmental portrayal of a story set in the Afghanistan conflict with subtle implications for other periods of history and mythology. I recommend it highly.

Originally posted here on my blog under "book reviews."
Profile Image for Wendy.
1 review
July 13, 2012
I've been an admirer of this writer's work since I read The Storyteller of Marrakesh last year. The Watch I feel helps me in my five-years-and-counting project of figuring out America, and how I fit into it, through great fiction.

Roy-Bhattacharya recently spoke about the disgust and apathy that are the most common responses to discussion of the war in Afghanistan. There's been good reportage and memoir coming out of it, but surprisingly little serious fiction. With understanding and often sympathy for individuals and ideologies fundamentally unable (so far) to coexist, the novel makes the reader dwell in a war zone without allowing us to choose a side.

I feel that we practise child sacrifice, wrap it in a flag and call it by other names. Then we can either ignore it, dismiss it as other people's barbarity, or blame those we've sacrificed. The Watch makes readers know that and own it.
Profile Image for Kelly Knapp.
934 reviews17 followers
May 22, 2012
I would have given this book a 5 star rating, but it felt like someone forgot to finish it.

This book was absolutly amazing. After a firefight on an Afganastan/American military post, a young disabled woman travels from her home to the area where the fight happened. She has one purpose, to see her brother given a proper muslim bureal...or does she?

This is the problem. What are her motives? Does she really want to bury her brother or is she a suicide bomber? Should the men in the post trust her, or shoot first and ask questions later?

This young woman endures the men's intent to determine her purpose. She allows them to search her carriage, her clothes, and even removes her Burqa. While awaiting their decision, she sets about burying the dead laying out on the plains. She catches and kills a sheep that is one of the many wondering around. And as the men from the post approach her, she takes a knife and cuts a wire, hidden beneath the sheeps covering...

This is the apex of the climax. What has she done? Did she have a bomb after all? We do not know, instead, the novel switches point of view to first one man in the post and then another, and another until you get to see who each person is and how they think. This is war and war is Hell.

The author has a winning book here. The dilemma is deadly accurate. In an age where bombs are strapped to children and sent into a crowd of civilians, where men and women are willing to be suicide bombers...What are the military men suppose to do, trust unreservedly, or distrust completely?

This is a book that should be read by everyone, but especially by those who have never been in the military or in a no rules war zone. It might give them a small taste of the terror felt by each and every military member, regardless of the country.

All of this being said, the ending fell flat for me...no, not flat. It felt like it had be cut off too soon. Almost as though the author had either a page count limit (and so ended it quickly) or had so much emotion tied up in the story that by the time the author reached the end, there was nothing left to give. It seemed too abrupt. I was left feeling like someone had forgotten the last half of the chapter. Others may not feel the same, but for me...I needed a few more pages. After all the set up, we are not given any of the after incident reactions from the post. If I explain further, I would have to tell the reader audience whether or not there was a bomb, but that would ruin the entire story. So, let me finish here by saying, that this has to be one of the best books I have read in years.

I have read hundreds of books, and I would give many of them 4 or 5 stars, but this one is in a league of its own.
Profile Image for Tad.
374 reviews48 followers
September 8, 2015
The Watch is a powerful and moving story. Based on the greek play, Antigones, it is updated and set in present day Afghanistan.

The story is told and retold from multiple perspectives, overlapping both in time and in vantage point. The novel takes a story that starts out two-dimensionally and builds it into a three-dimensional image with each character’s perspective. Layer upon layer is added brilliantly to the narrative. It captures the intensity, confusion and conflict both internally and externally. The characters are real and have great depth. Aside from a sometimes unusual familiarity with greek literature, they feel very real. They are extraordinary in their ordinariness.

One of the areas where the author excels is in displaying how different actions may be interpreted depending on the perspective from which you view them. Actions, and the intentions behind them, can be interpreted or misinterpreted..

I am a big fan of multiple first-person perspective and the author uses it to great effect here. The way the story unfolds requires you to continually examine and reexamine what you thought you knew. You walk in the steps of each of these characters, you live in their minds. Roy-Bhattacharya powerfully evokes the emotional state of each character to create an incredibly moving work. This is a novel that pulls you in and makes you feel you are standing alongside the characters. The action pieces spring on you with a suddenness that makes it all the more stunning and powerful.

This is a beautiful and heartfelt work, reminiscent of Slaughterhouse Five. It is intense and will resonate long after you put it down.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book. Highly recommended.
1 review
July 24, 2012
The story is well-written and, I think, wonderfully interweaves the eight different perspectives occurring over a few days to carefully construct the characters, the atmosphere of a US military outpost in the harsh environment of the Afghan desert, and to juxtapose the different cultures.

It is a story that can be enjoyed very much for it's plot and characters alone, but one that I also found to be very thought-provoking and topical, drawing on many different themes and conflicts. With the general set-up of the story being a Pashtun woman approaching the US army outpost in the aftermath of a fierce exchange to claim her brother's body so that she may bury him accordingly, the novel prompted of me a moment of introspection when I found my immediate reaction to be in-line with that of Captain Connelly.

There were moments that I felt grew tired, there being a lot of dialogue throughout the book that seems to primarily be used to offer different perspectives. Whilst this may give the book a strong foothold in realism, I consider that the descriptive work by the author to be much better worked - to the point of being cinematic - and really brought the setting to life.

I also thought that some of the characters - the war veteran owning the record store springs to mind - were a little cliche. In contrast though, I thought some characters were well-conveyed and by the climax I was very much invested in the outcome.

I am unfortunately not well read in military fiction and so could not compare this novel with other works. However, suffice to say I have enjoyed reading this twice as well as around the subject and am looking to read the other books by this author now.
Profile Image for Debbie.
1 review
August 3, 2012
Last month I attended a reading in our local bookstore by the author. He was preceded by a Captain from the US army who spoke movingly about his experiences in Afghanistan. Both speakers were emotionally intense and went out of their way to address queries. I remember especially the statement made by the officer that less than 1% of the American population serve in the military and bear the brunt of their sacrifices. Our entire audience was very appreciative of the opportunity given to the officer to address us, and I believe the author has invited other military officers to speak with him on his book tour, which is a wonderful idea.

The book struck me as psychologically complex and politically astute. However, readers looking for a light summer read should look elsewhere. The story is emotionally wrenching and not for the faint of heart. It represents the hell of modern war as seen from the ground level and really took me inside the soldiers' heads and hearts. Embedded in the veritable midst of hostile enemy territory, the soldiers of Alpha Company still resist being overpowered during a vicious battle and the events that follow. In this I think the author has succeeded in an extremely difficult task, and his level of empathy for the predicament of both sides is acute and meticulous.

My favorite chapter was the journal of Nick Frobenius, the First Lieutenant who is the company's moral compass. Written in the form of entries to his father in Vermont, his poetic voice, intimate, agonized, and informed by scholarship, carried me into the heart of the darkness of this particular war.

I also found the author's descriptions of landscape to have a lyricism that was haunting, stunning in their simplicity, directness, and poignancy.

As such, my only reservation is that there was no explanation of the many military abbreviations mentioned in the text for the common reader. That's a minor quibble, however, and I would recommend this book to anyone who wants an understanding of these ongoing wars. It offers disturbing insights to readers who know about the war, and also to those who do not but would like to find out more.
480 reviews37 followers
July 19, 2012
Battlefield. This word immediately stirs up a myriad of images, anything from charging horses and swords to beaches strewn with mines, numbered hills and rice patties, or a dry barren patch of desert in Afghanistan. Some of the fiercest, most frightening battles are fought on the smallest field of all - the one inside each participant's mind.

The enemy. Traditionally, the men in those other uniforms. Morphed into present, the enemy is the man, woman or child currently trying to destroy you. Forget the uniforms. Forget the military insignia identifying opposing sides. Forget tradition. Hope you have good instincts and excellent reaction time and never let your guard down.

War. Armed clashes over territory, wealth, political/religious ideals, revenge, most any issue that has two or more sides. Sometimes the reasons are so clear they need little justification. Sometimes, you have to wonder.......

This is the story of a woman's attempt to claim her brother's body. Her stated intention - to bury him according to religious and tribal tradition. It is complicated by the fact her brother was killed leading a bloody raid on this remote army fort.

Interestingly, this story is told in the first person, a different person with each chapter. The reader has a chance to see the situation through so many eyes, to experience the full spectrum of emotions that accompany it. To attempt to understand that which defies understanding.

At the end of the first chapter, some may consider putting this book aside. Don't. Read it. Digest it. And, if you are brave enough, this book will hold up a mirror for you to examine. Gaze into your own heart and mind when you finish. Are you comfortable with who you see?

I won this book on Goodreads

Profile Image for Autumn.
338 reviews1 follower
June 13, 2012

The Watch is based off the ancient Greek tale of Antigone. Don't remember that one? Don't feel bad. Neither did I. Basically Antigone's brother dies in battle outside the gates of the city. Antigone wants to bring his body back inside the gates for a proper burial but he's branded a traitor and the punishment is that he has to rot out there. The Watch is kinda flip flopped. The sister is outside the gates of the base and the dead brother is inside, but she wants his body for a proper burial.

The Watch is told from various view points starting with the sister who may or may not be an unreliable narrator. Then the rest of the story is told by various soldiers in the compound. They're all trying to determine the intent of this woman. Is her story really that simple? Does she have more malicious intent?

I liked The Watch up until the end. The entire book is told in a non-linear format and some parts are repeated from different viewpoints. The end repeats a part in the beginning and I felt like it didn't match up. It didn't work for me. Up until that part, it was good and I enjoyed it.
Profile Image for Joe.
103 reviews33 followers
May 23, 2012
Great book. Very well written. It was a different book than I am use to reading because there was no great battle. No great evil plot at hand. It was one woman who wanted to bury her brother and would not take no for an answer. Jumping to different points of views on the situation gave the story a lot of depth too. The different officers trying to control their men and the situation, along with their own lives (many of which were falling apart). Showing how Americans and Afghans just do not seem to understand each others cultures and motives is huge. How some of the grunts and the Captain refuse to see the woman as a grieving sister. And how the woman and the translator do not seem to understand the Americans and their motives and why they do things. This is a very powerful book about our current lives and military and how many people think about this war. I would recommend this book to people who loved the Kite Runner and military type books.
Profile Image for David.
21 reviews
June 27, 2012
Here's a novel that brings the Greek play Antigone to the 21st century as it delves into the complexities of war, mythology, being a soldier, American family issues/dysfunction, and many other issues. The first chapter gets you hooked and you slug through the soldiers' narratives about the critical chapter one event from various slice-of-life perspectives. The literary quality should make this work up for various awards and it'd be an outstanding novel for any unit on why we're in Afghanistan. One of the best of 2012.
Profile Image for Sharon.
753 reviews
July 28, 2012
Bookish pundits keep wondering when we'll see great literature coming out of our wars in the Middle East. This one is in the running. I'm still shaking from its portrayal of life in the unit, the quilted voices of each individual soldier with the loves and sorrows in the background of each, as well as their similarities when they're in the desert. The way war forces out the tenderest humanity one moment and the starkest inhumanity the next. The confusion and surety. The complicated loyalties. As well as the stories of the Afghanis whose lives intersect with the unit's. Read it.
Profile Image for Елис Емин.
79 reviews30 followers
August 9, 2017
„Аз съм жена в мъжкия им свят и те нямат понятие как да постъпят.“

След дълга битка насред афганистанската пустиня американските войници сварват жена, която им отправя странна молба. Низам е дошла пред американска военна база в Кандахар, за да прибере едно от телата на загиналите в нощната атака. Тя твърди, че Юсуф, наричан още Принца на планините и предводител на талибаните, е неин брат. А тя е дошла там, за да му осигури погребението, което заслужава. Но коя всъщност е Низам, каква е тя? Как сама жена е успяла да прекоси такова далечно разстояние, минавайки през планински вериги и то в инвалиден стол? Дали е опечалената сестра, за която се представя, или пратеник на талибаните – „черна вдовица“. Или пък една съвременна Антигона?

Джойдийп Рой-Батачаря пише роман за няколко дена от една война, продължила над 10 години – войната в Афганистан. През очите и сърцата на седем разказвачи виждаме една и съща история. До последните редове ми се струваше, че романът ще остане с отворен край. През всяка една от тези близо 400 страници читателят си задава много въпроси. Кои са лошите и кои добрите по време на война? Кой печели и кой губи? Възможна ли е въобще печалбата? Има ли право един човек да отнеме живота на друг? Докъде е способна да стигне една жена от любов?

Основният двигател е силата на Низам, осмелила се да се опълчи на всички и всичко. Нея не я сломяват палещото слънце, пясъчната буря, нощният студ, лешоядите, планините или американските войниците. Решена да изпълни родовия си и най-вече човешки дълг, Низам се противопоставя на пречките с цената на живота си.

Интересни са образите и на войниците. Низам е центърът, около който те кръжат. Нейното присъствие ги обърква, разгневява, отчайва или очовечава. Тя влияе на всеки един от тях, макар и косвено. На циничния Джаксън, преводача Масуд, лейтенант Том Елисън, Гарсия и доктора. Всеки един от тях е видял повече смърт, отколкото може да понесе. Задават си въпроси за смисъла на войната, бягат в мислите си далеч от Афганистан. Създават приятелства, губят другари, копнеят за любимите си, но най-вече оцеляват. Ден след ден, битка след битка.

Това е не е военен роман, но е роман за войната. За абсурдността, ненужността, болката, смъртта, отчаянието, депресията. Но също така и за силата на духа, любовта, състраданието и надеждата.
Profile Image for Tamara Agha-Jaffar.
Author 6 books247 followers
January 28, 2018
In his novel The Watch, Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya transplants the story of Antigone to an isolated American outpost in a desert in Afghanistan.

The novel opens with Nizam, a young burqa-clad Afghan girl whose family was killed by an American drone as they were returning from a wedding. Although she survived the attack, Nizam lost both her legs. With makeshift bandages wrapped around her stumps, she drives a cart to the isolated American outpost to request her brother's body for burial. As the lone survivor of her family, she is responsible for ensuring his burial according to her religious traditions.

She is told her brother was a Taliban insurgent and responsible for the recent attack on the outpost. She denies her brother was a Taliban and says his attack was retaliation for the death of her family by the Americans. She is told his body will not be returned to her. She insists it is her right to bury him. She is told to go home. She refuses to budge. She is offered food. She declines. She waits in her cart, fiercely determined to get her way. The young girl's presence outside the camp thrusts the soldiers into an unsettling moral quandary. After all, there are no guidelines for handling a courageous, defiant young girl who doggedly insists on retrieving her brother's body to give him a proper burial. And so begins a two-day standoff with both sides firmly entrenched in their positions.

Through a series of first person narratives, we circle back to the same event--Nizam's arrival at the outpost--but each time we see it through a different set of lenses. The majority of voices are those of the American soldiers. The characters are believable and portrayed with sympathy. The dialogue is realistic. Each narrator is given a unique identity and struggles with personal demons. Some want to do the civilized thing, the humane thing. But all are depicted as pawns in a situation that is decidedly uncivilized and inhumane.

Roy-Bhattacharya gives us a haunting taste of life on the outpost. The personal narratives include the characters' back stories and provide access to their thoughts. We witness their trauma as they are attacked by insurgents and lose some of their comrades. We feel their panic. We taste their fear of living on the edge with fingers ever-ready on the trigger. We are with them as they experience a sand storm so strong it invades their eyes, nose, ears, food, drinks, and the air they breathe while it reduces visibility to a bare minimum. We sense their frustration as they struggle to comprehend a situation that isn't in the rule book. We hear their doubts about the war as they question their presence and the efficacy of their mission. We feel their exhaustion. We witness their snatches of sleep and dreams of back home. We awaken with them as they jolt back to a reality they would prefer to forget. We experience abrupt shifts in time as sights and sounds trigger memories of home and loved ones.

Roy-Bhattacharya does not take sides in the conflict. Instead, he lets those embroiled in its tentacles speak their reality. The result is a riveting anti-war novel that captures the essence of war in all its ubiquitous horror, insanity, and anguish. The image of a young, disabled girl in a cart, willing to risk death to honor her brother, haunts the soldiers as it does the reader. Although Nizam's narrative is restricted to the opening chapter, her presence hovers over every page of the book, testifying to the horror of war and to the senseless destruction of human life.

In war, even the winners--if there are any--will lose.

Highly recommended, but because of its graphic language, its intense and emotionally-charged situations, this may not be for everyone.
Profile Image for Ken.
1 review
August 29, 2012
In 1970, fresh out of Vietnam and not feeling welcome at home, I felt the need for a respite in a very different country and chose Thailand. That didn't work out so next up was Afghanistan on a friend's suggestion. It turned out to be one of the best things I've ever done. I remember writing a postcard home about how peaceful the country was, the friendly people, the slow pace of life. It was like dropping into a past time. The countryside was beautiful, filled with fruit orchards, there was only one highway connecting all the major cities, and I traveled by bus around the country for four months. The dollar went a long way then. I started out in Kabul, went to Mazar in the northwest, then Badakhshan in the northeast by camel, then south to Kandahar and west to Herat. Each province had a different people, Uzbeks and Turkmen in Mazar, Uzbeks and Tajiks in the northeast, Pashtuns in the southeast, Hazaras and Tajiks in Herat. Even the languages were different, but there was one thing in common, the peoples' hospitality wherever I went. Zahir Shah was the figurehead king, but he was liked by everyone and held the country together as a centralizing symbol.

I always planned to go back but the years passed, and then in the late 1970s, everything changed. More than thirty years later, none of my friends in the cities from that era have survived, the orchards are gone, there's fighting everywhere, and my nephew, who recently returned from serving there, tells me the entire place is a dust bowl. I can't say I understood how this happened, but reading this novel brought back memories of the independent spirit of the people. The character of Nizam reminded me of young women I met in the countryside, as was still possible at that time, girls who bargained hard over fruits the likes of which I've never again come across, especially the melons.

I'm an old man now, and thinking about the mess the world's in makes me tired. Nothing's been learned since Vietnam. It fills me with sadness.

I respect this writer and what he's done. I think the book he's written is beautiful and captures the spirit of the country I used to know. Will everyone like it? I don't know. People no longer want to be reminded of the mistakes made that lead to wars and lost lives. For myself, I thank the writer for his beautiful, difficult book.
Profile Image for Jessica.
1 review
August 28, 2012
This is my first Goodreads review. The Watch is an insanely good book. Moving, intelligent, and very provocative, I defy anyone who can finish it without feeling complicit. As well, the humor that runs through the conversations is very real,mainly because the two things that get soldiers through the insane conditions they have to cope with are humor and profanity, and The Watch has plenty of both. At the same time, it's the first war fiction I'v e read about Afghanistan or Iraq that gives a sounding of the other side, who they are, what they feel, and how they think. Every chapter has an ironic twist in the tail. The writer pulls off a unique feat in combining objectivity and detachment with unabashed passion in this story about the depths of war. It's a brave book, and I can see why many readers might be put off by it. It's never comfortable to be brought face to face with reality, and THIS reality is concealed from us by the powers that be, and it is devastating. It's the kind of book that's difficult to forget. It leaves a scar on the soul, and it's left a scar on mine. But it's very necessary to understand what's been going on, what is being done in our name, and what is being done, in the end, to all of us.
Profile Image for Nicki Markus.
Author 63 books265 followers
March 13, 2015
This was a very interesting piece. I loved the way the Antigone story was transposed into a modern situation and the background of the war in Afghanistan seemed very fitting.

The lack of speech punctuation irritated me at first, but soon I got used to it. I did like the way the story was told through the viewpoints of several different characters; it added extra layers of meaning and let you see things from all perspectives.

This is a compelling tale and is presented perfectly with good pacing and plenty of emotional depth. I would definitely be keen to read more works by this author.

I received this book as a free ARC via a Dymocks giveaway.
Profile Image for Kaya Dimitrova.
327 reviews71 followers
March 24, 2019
Спомням си как изпитвах тежест в сърцето дълго след прочитането на тази книга, което беше преди повече от година.
"Страж" разказва за войната в Афганистан и представя няколко гледни точки, които ме накараха да вникна в душата на всеки един от героите и да търся отговор на въпроса - какво ги е накарало да се превърнат в участници в тази безсмислена война... често те самите се питаха същото. Защото много скоро след започването на книгата, а може би даже и преди това, се разбира, че тази, както повечето войни, е такава, лишена от смисъл и потънала в сивотата, в която черното и бялото са се слели.
August 18, 2012
I read The Watch on the recommendation of my bookseller. I read it in three sittings, and then went back and reread the first chapter to check on a few details. Except for that the title is already taken, halfway through the book I thought it should have been called The Killing Field, not only because of the barren deserted field that is at the forefront of the action, but also because for the men in the battlefield what is the prevalent act of war other than about killing? And for all the training given to young men and women sent off to fight wars, the aim of all the training is to make soldiers better killers. There are other books that show how men and women can become capable of terrible acts of violence in wartime. One example would be Christopher Browning's extraordinary Second World War study of a company of German soldiers, Ordinary Men. On our side, there will always be Mai Lai. In a time where the dividing line between military and civilian has become blurred, the task of killing, I would argue, has become more ethically difficult, although the reverse argument, given the proliferation of drones in combat, can also be made.

Unlike most people, I suppose, I felt that owing to its psychological tension and graphic language The Watch read almost as a documentary study of the realities of combat as seen not on a movie or television screen but as experienced by fighting men at the front. The author has thanked several army officers at the end of the book, and their contribution to the realism of the book is clear. The many small details combine with the driving story to result in an extraordinary achievement. Though clearly not a comfortable read, and very far from entertainment, I read The Watch as one of the most remarkable recent analyses of men in combat since Sebastian Junger's 2010 documentary study, The War. Read together, the two books show, with unflinching honesty, how men seek to survive and come out whole, both psychologically and in body, in landscapes of great stress and violence.

I would also like to point out the remarkable compassion shown by the author towards the combatants on both sides. The Analogy to Antigone aside, there's a humanity and deep empathy that shine through The Watch and its devastating conclusion. It's a must for all concerned about our ability to survive and cope with the destructive trends so evident today.
Profile Image for D.S..
1 review
August 6, 2012
Compulsively readable. A shaming comment on the nature and balance of power in a conflict zone. If you want to know how and why wars go bad despite the very best intentions, read this book. Combining poetic intensity with spare prose, Roy-Battacharya manages to both capture history in the making and surpass it in this modern masterpiece. Filled with stark conviction, Roy-Battacharya has conyeved the moral quagmire of an entire war by locating it in the experience of a single company of brave men who're turning into ghosts.

The battle that forms the fulcrum around which the story evolves is worth reading for itself, a fight of unimaginable intensity and violence.

The Watch is dramatic, brutally honest, and hugely relevant to the politics in the Middle East.

Highly recommended, especially for cultural awareness programs in schools and elsewhere.
Profile Image for Patricia.
410 reviews83 followers
August 24, 2012
A very poignant book during this time of war. The story is based on the Greek classic, Antigone and references to this work appear throughout the book. A woman arrives at a remote outpost in Khandahar Afghanistan to claim and bury her brother. After a devastating attack on the outpost, the troops do not know whether to believe this woman is there in peace or if she a spy leading a future attack or a suicide bomber. The various members of the platoon tell their story sparked by this woman's appearance. In the end, no one wins.
Profile Image for Savina Nikolova.
60 reviews74 followers
August 5, 2017
„- Не искам да съм герой, просто искам да се върна жив и здрав.“

Една човешка история за живота на американските войници в база Тардансан, Афганистан - някои изцяло отдадени на поставената им мисия и готови на всичко, за да я изпълнят; и други - просто човеци, които трезво осмислят създалите се ситуации и започват да се питат дали наистина те са добрите герои в театъра на войната. История, показваща с какви мисли си лягат нощем войни��ите, какво не им дава покой и какво им носи малките радости в далечните афганистански земи.
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