It is April 2003. American forces have taken Baghdad and are now charged with winning hearts and minds. But this vital tipping point is barely recognized for what it is, as a series of miscalculations and blunders fuels an already-simmering insurgency intent on making Iraq the next graveyard of empires.
In dazzling and propulsive prose, Brian Van Reet explores the lives on both sides of the battle lines: Cassandra, a nineteen-year-old gunner on an American Humvee who is captured during a deadly firefight and awakens in a prison cell; Abu Al-Hool, a lifelong mujahedeen beset by a simmering crisis of conscience as he struggles against enemies from without and within, including the new wave of far more radicalized jihadists; and Specialist Sleed, a tank crewman who goes along with a "victimless" crime, the consequences of which are more awful than any he could have imagined.
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.
"The finest Iraq War novel yet written by an American"-Wall Street Journal, 10 Best Novels of the Year
"An electrifying debut" (The Economist) that maps the blurred lines between good and evil, soldier and civilian, victor and vanquished.
The horrors of modern war in Iraq in 2003 are vividly described in this debut novel by Iraq War veteran Van Reet, focusing on the deadly connections between a female American soldier, an American tank crewman, and a fervent jihadist insurgent. At an obscure roadblock near Baghdad, Army Specialist Cassandra is a gunner on a Humvee, idealistic and proud of her service. Private Sleed, the tank crewman, is na ve and easily manipulated. And Abu Al-Hool loses a leadership struggle with Dr. Walid, an Islamist extremist. Sleed and his crew have abandoned their posts to loot a palace when Walid and Al-Hool's fighters attack the American roadblock, and Cassandra is wounded and captured by the jihadists, beginning 55 days of torture, abuse, and exploitation for propaganda. Sleed feels guilty that their dereliction of duty contributed to Cassandra's capture. While the Americans search for Cassandra, Al-Hool suspects Walid will have him killed, so he makes desperate plans to avoid assassination and to seek his revenge. Cassandra's POW captivity is horrific; Dr. Walid's final propaganda use for her is calmly diabolical and will have surprising and devastating effect. Van Reet's unsettling tale is an authentic portrayal of combat with its chaos, fear, and the finality of death. It is also a sobering commentary on war's brutality and the burning intensity of Iraq's jihadist insurgency.