Sigaud's debut (a prize-winner in France) is a self-consciously artful cry against war, but, with its paper-thin people, readers aren—t very likely to find it moving. The Gulf War is over, much to the relief of villager Ali ben Fakr as he sets out across the desert early one morning to buy a horse he's always coveted and now has the money for. When he glimpses a soldier in the dunes, he almost keeps going, but, conscience dictating, stops to look—and, filled suddenly with death-fears of his own, swoons by the soldier's body. He returns later with other villagers to bury the unidentified soldier—he wears simple fatigues, has no dog tags—but something about the soldier keeps the men from doing it. Village women sneak out to see for themselves—and, savior-like, the soldier begins speaking to them of the "after-death" (—They had always wanted a man to speak to them; they wanted nothing else. That he was a stranger, that he was dead, mattered little—). Next morning, his body has decayed and is quickly buried. Who was he? Sigaud's little book, with its wonderful start, grows thin and artificial in flashing back and forth to let us know that an idealistic Jewish kid from Brooklyn named John Miller had been living in Provo, Utah, with his young and pretty wife Mary, a black girl from the Bronx, now a schoolteacher. Drafted into duty, and in moral revulsion at an especially needless act of cruelty, John, near war's end, walked away from his unit into the desert, writing notes to Mary the while (—I love you. I need you here—). Tragic? Potentially, but, fatal to any dramatic impact, the good martyr John remains no more than a symbol, the grieving and perfect Mary little beyond a cipher. A French officer comes a little more fully to life but, being peripheral, helps little. Earnest, well intended, conscientious—and half-real at best.
Read full book review >