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Joydeep Roy-Bhattachara's 'The Watch' recasts 'Antigone' in contemporary Afghanistan

This Thursday evening at 7 p.m., Talking Leaves Books presents a reading and book-signing by Indian-born novelist Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, author of “The Gabriel Club” (1998), “The Storyteller of Marrakesh” (2011), and his internationally-heralded new novel “The Watch” published by Hogarth Press--the venerable literary press founded in 1917 by Leonard and Virginia Woolf--that is now an imprint of The Crown Publishing Group, part of Random House Inc.   The reading is at Talking Leaves' 3158 Main St. location in Buffalo, and is free and open to the public.

Inspired by the Greek classical myth of Antigone, “The Watch” is the story of Nizam, a young Pashtun Afghan woman crippled in an American drone strike who is mourning the death of her brother, Yusuf, an insurgent killed in battle while trying to overtake an isolated U.S. military base in Kandahar Province.  In order to assure her brother a proper Muslim burial, she approaches the base on an improvised cart to demand the return of his body, but is rebuffed as a possible spy, decoy, enemy combatant, and perhaps even suicide terrorist herself.

The moral stand-off that ensues, which the novel explores from multiple first-person perspectives including that of several sympathetically portrayed American soldiers and officers, recapitulates and re-enacts many of the elements of Sophocles' classical tragedy--especially those which explore the rights of family set against the sovereignty of the state and the role of women in resisting masculine authority.  

If this story of mourning in contemporary Afghanistan--an isolated, essentially tribal society perennially overrun by world-historical occupiers--lends itself to tragedy as a narrative form more readily than it might in other settings, Roy-Bhattacharya is a novelist who seems to understand the competing moral imperatives well enough to not impose his own postmodern, post-colonial interpretations on the human drama.  Born in Jamshedpur, India, and educated in politics and philosophy at Calcutta University and the University of Pennsylvania, he now lives in Rhinebeck, NY.

--R.D. Pohl


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