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A powerful and affecting novel imagining the inner turmoil of soldiers on a military base in Afghanistan. Longlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.

A powerful and affecting novel imagining the inner turmoil of soldiers on a military base in Afghanistan. Longlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.

Following a desperate night-long battle, a group of beleaguered soldiers in an isolated base in Kandahar are faced with a lone woman demanding the return of her brother's body. Is she a spy, a black widow, a lunatic or what she claims to be: a grieving sister intent on burying her brother according to local rites? As she persists, single-minded in her mission, the camp's tense, claustrophobic atmosphere comes to a boil as the men argue about what to do next.

The Watch takes an age-old story - the myth of Antigone - and hurls it into present-day Afghanistan. The result is a gripping, deeply affecting book that brilliantly exposes the realities of war. It is also our most powerful expression to date of the nature and futility of this very contemporary conflict.


This is a rich, unsettling, politically astute novel that will haunt you for a long time after you finish reading it.

Kerryn Goldsworthy, The Sydney Morning Herald

A powerful reading experience.

Lucy Sussex, The Age

[The novel] achieves a subtle balance of dramatic forces—personal morality and public order, duty to God and duty to country—that gives it a philosophical depth and wrenching humanity…Mr. Roy-Bhattacharya brings a rigorous and often disquieting sense of empathy to each of his clashing characters. There is no outright villain here, only the collision of people stubbornly holding to what they believe to be right and honorable. This is the essence of tragedy, and it makes The Watch the first great novel of the war in Afghanistan.

Wall Street Journal

Roy-Bhattacharya goes from strength to strength in the closing stages of what develops into a remarkable novel, because of his use of memory filtered through the horrors of the moment. States of mind, both fractured and lucid, dominate this serious and honourable novel about war. By drawing on classical literature, Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya has fashioned a beautiful and heartfelt lamentation.

Eileen Battersby, The Irish Times

The Watch is a stunning account of war, of the terrifying range of emotions, the despair and the sheer fatigue which men have to endure in combat. It is a must-read for anyone interested in our common humanity and the terrible things we do to each other. The Watch is quite simply superb.

Rob Minshull, 612 ABC Brisbane

We watch as the resistance of an isolated American garrison in Afghanistan is ground down, not by force of arms but by the will of a single unarmed woman, holding inflexibly to an idea of what is just and right.

JM Coetzee

A poignant and important book about one of the defining events of the start of the 21stcentury; it is devastatingly eloquent and unequivocal about the fact that there is no glory or beauty in war.

Fatima Bhutto

The Watch is a powerful tale, courageous both in concept and creation: an ancient tale made modern, passed through different narrators in extraordinary shape shifting prose that makes this not just an important novel, but a remarkable read.

Aminatta Forna

An important book for our times, in which one woman's determination and refusal to consent sets an example of courage and honesty.

Giles Foden

Every war spawns its major literary works, and Roy-Bhattacharya's powerful, modern take on the Afghanistan armed conflict resonates with the echoes of Joseph Heller, Tim O'Brien and Robert Stone.

Starred review, Publisher's Weekly

The Watch touches on nearly every trope of war novels, but like the best of the breed, it does so in fresh, exciting ways. Difficult to put down, powerful, eloquent, and even haunting.

Starred review, Booklist

...Lyrically written but emotionally exacting... All in all, it's an extraordinary, shape-shifting telling that exacts a devastating emotional toll.

Bron Sibree, West Australian, Perth

A legless woman approaches a military outpost in Afghanistan's Kandahar Province, ostensibly to retrieve the body of her brother, who has been killed in a firefight. Having survived that firefight, the soldiers inside the compound are wary and edgy. That's the setup to a taut and gritty story that unfolds amid the dust, shadows, and unease of one slice of the war in Afghanistan. Playing with the myth of Antigone, Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya has crafted an eloquent and intimate look at the types of events still occurring on a daily basis. At the Tarsandan combat outpost, as the woman refuses to leave and questions mount about her true intentions, everything comes into question--what's right and wrong? why are we here? Barbaric, heartfelt, heartbreaking, and lyrical, this is a primal and beautiful work. And a page-turner to the very last page.

Neal Thompson, Amazon Best Books of the Month, June 2012

Rejecting the idea that ongoing armed conflicts are for journalists, not novelists, this Indian-American writer has set his third book in present-day Afghanistan. On one level it recasts Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone, telling the story of a local woman who approaches the U.S. Army base her brother had attacked, hoping to bury his body. But it’s also a contemporary rumination on a clash of cultures and ideologies. Roy-Bhattacharya tells his story from multiple, conflicting points of view — this is fiction that forces us to react, to feel, perhaps even to change our minds.

Mike Doherty, National Post (Canada) Summer Fiction Picks

This brave, visceral novel breaks new ground. It makes each character deeply humane, challenging the reader to sympathise with every one of them.

Jaya Aninda Chatterjee, NPR

Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya's lyrical and poignant evocation of war is a potent reminder of the murderous futility of our imperial adventures in the Middle East. He captures the raw brutality of industrial warfare, along with its trauma, senselessness, random death and stupidity. His characters, including the soldiers who prosecute the war and the innocents whose lives are maimed and destroyed by it, are consumed alike in the vast orgy of death that sweeps across war zones to extinguish all that is human -- tenderness, compassion,understanding and finally love. He forces us to face the evil we do to others and to ourselves.

Chris Hedges


Kaye, Wright, Random House Australia

With a pulsing plot and vivid characters, The Watch is intense, moving and powerful. I loved it. It offers every perspective on the war in Afghanistan, making it such an urgent and important novel to read.

Antonia Hayes, Random House Australia

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Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback


    May 1, 2012

    Vintage Australia

    336 pages

    RRP $32.99

    Online retailers

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    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    May 1, 2012

    Random House Australia

    304 pages

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