I’m told this ran in Saturday’s Courier Mail and the Daily Telegraph. Didn’t catch it myself and can’t get an online copy, so here’s my copy.
BY JOYDEEP ROY-BHATTACHARYA
FICTION – WAR
Nothing much changes in war. Its cruel inhumanities and soaring nobility has inspired writers through the generations to question the human condition and to ponder our future as a species whilst we play such fatal games. With this in mind, Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya has teased Sophocles’ fifth century BC play “Antigone” to spool out in a field in modern Afghanistan.
A woman, a modern Antigone, will not leave the battlefield in front of a US base where her dead brother still lies, until she has his body to ritually bury.
This is a book about death and about the arrivals at, and the departures from, the statistics of war. From various points-of-view, including that of the woman herself, the different layers of her plight are explored. Each chapter wanders about inside one of the characters’ heads, drawing links and relations and throwing to back-stories and stream-of-consciousness passages.
In doing so, all the confusions and cultural gaps, the ridiculous rules and the flickering human moments of war are skilfully highlighted.
Incongruously au fait with classical literature, the otherwise simple characters come across a little manufactured and over-dramatised however. As in a Greek play, they seem too subservient to the author’s thematic goals to be truly fulfilling.
The strength of this book lies in its tight focus on an otherwise unimportant and undistinguished moment in a war some consider to be ill-conceived and pointless. Pile such moments upon each other and you have the sum of a war, the justification for peace and a reason for debate.
The sort of debate that’s been raging since at least the ancient Greeks.