Book Review: 'Spoils'

May 1, 2017

When the recent news that the ‘mother of all bombs' was dropped in Afghanistan to wipe out a stronghold of ISIS, I immediately thought about  Brian Van Reet’s debut novel Spoils, a propulsive novel that empathetically depicts both sides of our ruinous war on terror.

Two years before 9/11, Abu Al-Hool has spent years living and training mujahideen recruits in the claustrophobic caves near the Afghan-Pakistan border. Beset by doubt, he longs to exorcize the demons in a young Afghan jihadi fighter. Abu’s first person voice allows us intimate access to his struggle.

Fast forward two years to Operation Iraqi Freedom, April 2003. We are in the confining spaces inhabited by the 19-year-old Cassandra, involved in a mujahideen mortar and ground attack. Cassandra, with one of her unit, is captured by the enemy, now confined in a cell and forced to adhere to the cruelty of her captors, as she struggles to survive.

Two of Cassandra’s unit, against orders, were away from the Humvee during the attack, and must confront their culpability in losing two of their unit to the enemy. At one point, Van Reet observes: “[troops] are for the most part, highly able and motivated, but they’ve been trained not to act independently, instead to report the situation up the chain of command, sit tight, and await further guidance. Death by Micromanagement.”

Van Reet, a veteran, served in Iraq under stop loss orders. Spoils is a deeply empathic war novel; one to be conjured when reading the devastating headlines of our modern world.