Debut author Brian Van Reet knows his subject. He left university to enlist in the U. S. Army after the September 11 attacks, serving as a tank crewman in Iraq and earning a Bronze Star for valor. After his discharge, Van Reet returned to his studies and to writing.
From the viewpoint of the American characters, we learn of the hardships and boredom of war, the crazy randomness of violence, and the gap between the reason and the reality of war.
The Iraqi characters shed light on the history of the conflict and the changing nature of jihad under extremists and after America invaded Iraq.
"I always had an idea of what the Americans would be like. But they are different than I thought. They're just people."
"There comes a time for each of us when we realize the truth about the enemy. Which is that he is not an idea, or some faceless demon. He is a man. And every man is much like ourselves."Cassandra Wigheard is a nineteen-year-old American soldier serving as a tank gunner. She is aware of the gap between the political hype about Operation Iraqi Freedom and the reality that the army's purpose is to kill and destroy. She joined the army to be different, to "escape a hard life for one she hoped would be harder." She is appalled by the rape of another female soldier, and at her fellow soldier's callousness.
Abu Al-Hool is a dedicated mujaheddin who sees radicalized jihadists taking over. He left his privileged life to join something bigger, to shape the world. Now, with the murder of women and children and the rise of Osama, he questions his place in the jihad. Dr. Walid, a leader whose motto was "Jihad and the rifle alone," is taking over power.
Sargent Sleed joined the army to find a 'higher purpose,' but instead makes bad decisions, causing the deaths of Iraqi civilians, which he covers up.
Cassandra is captured by the group led by Dr. Walid and Abu Al-Hool, leading Al-Hool to make a fatal choice.
There is no sensationalizing of war, no graphic details of violence. My reaction was more intellectual than visceral. But that makes me happy--I can't read graphic violence.
The publisher writes,"Depicting a war spinning rapidly out of control, destined to become a modern classic, Spoils is an unsparing and morally complex novel that chronicles the achingly human cost of combat."
That about sums it up for me.
I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
Brian Van Reet
Little, Brown & Co.
Publication April 18, 2017
$26 hard cover