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A Guardian Book of the Year
Winner of The Writers' League of Texas Fiction Award 2017

'Spoils is a harrowing and incredibly powerful debut. I read this with awe.' Kate Atkinson

It is the spring of 2003 and coalition forces are advancing on Iraq. Images of a giant statue of Saddam Hussein crashing to the ground in Baghdad are being beamed to news channels around the world. Nineteen-year-old Specialist Cassandra Wigheard, on her first deployment since joining the US army two years earlier, is primed for war.

For Abu al-Hool, a jihadist since the days of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, war is wearing thin. Two decades of fighting - and the new wave of super-radicalised fighters joining the ranks in the wake of the September 11 attacks - have left him questioning his commitment to the struggle.

When Cassandra is taken prisoner by al-Hool's mujahideen brotherhood, both fighters will find their loyalties tested to the very limits.

This fast-paced, hard-hitting account of eight weeks in the lives of a soldier and her captor forces us to reconsider the simplistic narratives of war spun by those in power. With its privileged insight into the reality of armed combat, Spoils shines a light on the uncertainty, fear and idealism that characterised the early days of one of the most important conflicts of our time.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 272 pages
  • 162 x 240 x 27mm | 504g
  • Jonathan Cape Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 191070296X
  • 9781910702963
  • 519,145

Review Text

Blisteringly good.
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Review quote

A brilliantly written account of kidnap and conquest in the early years of the Iraq war. -- Justine Jordan * Guardian, Books of the Year * Clear, authentic and beautifully written, Spoils is a book about war for people who don't like books about war. Van Reet gives us a thriller that is not a thriller, but a grave and fierce description of the moral battlefield behind the headlines from Iraq. -- Anne Enright Blisteringly good. * Daily Telegraph * Undeniably engrossing. * Observer * Brian Van Reet's assured debut novel begins with one of the best opening chapters I've read... bear[s] eye-widening witness to valour, horror, violence, cruelty and absurdity... not only rewarding but necessary. * Guardian * An instant addition to the canon of must-read war novels. -- Olivia Cole * GQ * Uncompromisingly depicts the terror and pity of war. * Daily Mail * This is a raw study in the ruin of men. It's unapologetic and confessional, showing the flaws in humanity just below the skin. * Washington Post * Original, deftly plotted and incisively intelligent. * Wall Street Journal * A timely novel with striking relevance. * Economist * Brian Van Reet's debut works equally well as a geopolitical action-thriller and a literary novel... Beautifully written... Van Reet captures the tactile sensations of combat - the smells, the sounds, the physical discomfort and mental strain - so sharply... An excellent novel that seeks deeper truths, even as its plot kicks like the recoil of an assault rifle. * Irish Independent * Slaughterhouse Five, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Catch 22 ... there's now a new novel to sit alongside these war fiction goliaths. Yes that's hyperbolic, but we're ready to stand by it. It's that good. * Shortlist * Stunning... Unsurprisingly, it has the ring of absolute authenticity, and Van Reet clearly articulates the violence mechanics of modern warfare... A human story, a psychological drama... A powerful and compelling narrative... As the search for the lost soldier intensifies. * Mail on Sunday * Every page of his debut feels steeped in bitter, lived experience. And, as in the best reportage, it's the little details that stand out - the bubblegum shipped 7000 miles to the front line, for instance, or the pitch black of a bunker beneath the glory of a desert sky. * Daily Mail * Spoils is a unique and superbly crafted novel that addresses the reality of war in a sensitive, lyrical and intelligent manner. * i * Van Reet's lean prose accommodates a laconic style suggesting military reports and detail-rich context fed by a keen eye and memory. He embeds the reader with the unwashed troops in a cramped Humvee, in a dark cell where only screams penetrate, and in the mind of a Muslim fighter with two decades of campaigning, a dead son, a lost wife, scant wins, and more doubts than faith can ease. A fine piece of writing that should stand in the front ranks of recent war novels. * Kirkus, starred review * A tough and shining debut. * RTE Guide * I read this with awe. Spoils is a harrowing and incredibly powerful debut which shows war in all its complexity and viciousness and which attempts to humanise it through extraordinary and conflicted characters. The female soldier Cassandra Wigheard is superbly drawn and her relationship with the young Jihadist will stay with me for a long time. -- Kate Atkinson Brian Van Reet's beautiful, intense, and at times disturbing novel Spoils traces the motivations and desires of combatants on both sides of the Iraq War, showing us what happens when increasing violence and chaos start to warp the choices they're able to make. -- Phil Klay, author of Redeployment Moving immediately into the pantheon of first-rate war novels, Spoils reads like a nightmare within a tragedy, a story that is both touchingly classic and brutally modern, This is a definitive record of the war that marked the end of the American Empire. One of the best novels of our time in the Middle East. -- Philipp Meyer, author of American Rust With Spoils Brian Van Reet has given readers an intensely moving novel. That it is also a nearly comprehensive examination of our modern wars is a remarkable demonstration of both the power and relevance of fiction. -- Kevin Powers, author of The Yellow Birds In recent years there have been a number of very good novels by veterans of the Global War on Terror. None is as ambitious, inclusive or powerful as Brian Van Reet's Spoils; none has this novel's range or uncanny ability to transport the reader to the battlefield and those rarely explored margins at the battlefield's ragged edge. Spoils is a fantastic debut. -- Aaron Gwyn, author of Wynne's War Vivid and fierce, Spoils is an eloquent exploration of humanity. Depicting a world with no obvious villains or heroes, this novel is as important as it is timely. By exploring the nuances of motivation, loyalty, and sacrifice, Van Reet exposes the connections that bind us across even the greatest divides. -- Virginia Reeves The brilliance of Brian Van Reet's Spoils lies not only in the sheer forward-motion velocity of its plotting, but in the psychological terrain it explores: what a generation of young women and men went looking for in Iraq, what they found, and why that discovery matters so profoundly for the rest of us. -- Anthony Giardina In Spoils, Van Reet has imbued his subject with subtlety - something that it is so often stripped of, both by combatants and the media. One rarely sees a war novel by a soldier with such convincing writing on both sides of the trenches. -- Jonathan McAloon * Financial Times *
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About Brian Van Reet

Brian Van Reet was born in Houston. Following the September 11 attacks, he dropped out of the University of Virginia and enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served in Iraq under stop-loss orders, achieved the rank of sergeant and was awarded a Bronze Star for valour. After an honourable discharge he studied at the University of Missouri and later the University of Texas. His stories and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Daily Beast and the Washington Post.
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Rating details

701 ratings
3.87 out of 5 stars
5 26% (180)
4 43% (303)
3 25% (173)
2 5% (37)
1 1% (8)
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