A powerful and disturbing book, Spoils by Brian Van Reet is a gritty insider’s look at all that can go wrong in theatres of war and how the lines between combatants can become blurred. It clearly shows us how the ally can so easily get it wrong, while the enemy surprises us by getting so much right.
Cassandra and her fellow soldiers manning a US tank, are confidently brash in anticipation of their first encounter with the enemy having now completed their first 5 weeks in Iraq. They are deployed to strategic intersection in an area known as Triangle Town to watch and await developments.
The story switches cleverly between militant Iraqis and Afghanis and the American soldiers who prepare to defend the Iraqi population. Gradually all the main characters are introduced through their memories of former times, their political viewpoints, their philosophies of life and the series of events which lead to the current situation.
After an attack on the soldiers guarding the crossroads at Triangle Town, Cassandra and two of her tank buddies are taken prisoner by the terrorists and moved to a secret location, where they are filmed from time to time with the express purpose of lowering US army morale and instilling a deep fear of the enemy at the same time.
All three soldiers are tortured over months of incarceration, but only Cassandra survives through a combination of determination, wits and physical strength. She begins learning Arabic with her prison keeper, a young Muslim who admires her bravery and is intrigued by the fact that a woman could even conceive of becoming a soldier, let alone being one.
The harrowing story of Cassandra’s survival against the odds and the dire outcome for the disparate band of terrorists who have taken her captive, is an intense and emotionally draining read. This is an outstanding debut novel written with great authenticity and unwavering realism. To quote Anne Enright ‘Spoils is a book about war for people who don’t like books about war’.
Brian Van Reet
Jonathan Cape London