The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya

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The Watch

Five words from the blurb: Afghanistan, woman, bravery, war, body

The Watch begins with an emotional chapter in which a lone woman approaches an American base in Afghanistan. Her only wish is to give her brother a proper burial, but the soldiers refuse to release his body. This leads to the beginning of her dangerous vigil on the barren soil outside the base.

This first chapter was beautifully written, perfectly capturing the woman’s desperation and bravery.

Some of my muscles are raw to the touch, like open wounds; others are dead to all sensation. The stumps of my legs have begun to bleed; only recently healed, the constant thrusting forward required by my journey has rubbed the sutures raw. I ignore the pain; I ignore everything except the fact of my being here. I tell myself that I am here because my heart is huge and my tenderness real. I am here to bury my brother according to the tenets of my faith. That is all there is to it.

Unfortunately everything went downhill from there. Subsequent chapters repeated the scene from the view point of different people within the army base, but this was unnecessary as the writing of the first chapter was so good I felt I knew their opinions already. This repetition meant that the majority of the book bored me. I longed for the story to be developed further, but instead it just seemed to go around in circles.

The American military personnel in this book were not portrayed in a favourable light – they swore continually, were rude, and had no consideration for local culture. I appreciated reading a book which showed the attitudes of the Afghani people, but I felt that the divide between American (evil) and Afghanis (good) was too strong – I’d have liked to see a few flawed characters on both sides.

The blurb informs me that this book is based on the myth of Antigone  – a story I know nothing about. I suspect that this meant most of the underlying symbolism went over my head and if you have a knowledge of Greek tragedies you’ll gain more from reading this book than I did.

This book contained some fantastic scenes, but overall I was a little disappointed. I’m sure I’ll remember the beginning and the end for a long time to come, but the middle section did little for me. Most people seem to appreciate it a lot more than I did so please read their reviews before deciding whether or not to give it a try.

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The thoughts of other bloggers:

Joydeep’s prowess in telling a story surpasses any other book that I have read this month. Of Books and Reading

Roy-Bhattacharya shows himself adept with descriptive prose and the build-up to the fire-fight is brilliantly realised. Just William’s Luck

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. The Boston Bibliophile


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6 Comments

  1. Chinoiseries says:

    What a disappointment :( I’ve recently read The Storyteller of Marrakech and it was not what I expected it would be (review later this week). I’d planned on reading The Watch hoping it’d be better, but apparently, it is not.

    I may still read The Watch, but probably not anytime soon…

    1. Jackie says:

      Chinoiseries, I look forward to reading your review for The Storyteller of Marrakech – it will be interesting to see if it suffers from the same problems as this one.

  2. Charlie says:

    You saying it’s based on Antigone, I can somewhat understand the repetition as it would make sense in the time it (Antigone) was written to repeat and go over what’s happened, albeit not quite to the extent you mention; though overall it sounds a theatrical way of writing which of course would fit the origins. Away from that, your saying that the writing was so good does sound as though it would cast a shadow over the rest.

    1. Jackie says:

      Charlie, Thank you for letting me know it was common for stories to be repetitive. It sounds as this might be an accurate modern re-writing of Antigone. Just not to my taste. :-(

  3. Athira says:

    Looks like I may not enjoy reading this book either. A pity because I had been looking forward to checking it out. I’m no fan of good vs evil themes and repetition bores me as well.

    1. Jackie says:

      Athira, It isn’t really a good v evil story. It is just that the characters didn’t display the complexity I like to see. The Americans (and conversly the Afghanis) were all portrayed in the same way and I don’t like to see entire cultures grouped together like that. There are good/bad on both sides.

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