THE LAST WAR by Ana Menendez

Book Quote:

“That’s how it is, isn’t it? If you’re going to die, you might as well live. Death on a full belly is better than a life of hunger.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Beth Chariton (AUG 10, 2009)

If you become numb to the conflict of constant war, does it prevent you from dealing with your own personal battles? In The Last War, by Ana Menéndez, Flash and Brando get paid to travel and document war – he the “Wonderboy” journalist, she the photographer/wife that follows in his shadow.

Brando travels to Baghdad, while Flash stays behind in Istanbul, waiting for photography equipment, travel papers, or any other excuse she can find to avoid joining him. He calls her from Baghdad, sometimes twice a day, from the rooftop of the mansion he’s staying in, while she answers from their four-bedroom apartment with the fabulous view. Their type of reporting allows them to live several classes higher than their means, and all on Brando’s company’s bill.

Any intimacy between them has slowly diminished from exposure to war, human hatred and revenge. They get by on small amounts of surface dialogue, the war too devastating to discuss out loud or often, and daily topics of conversation too trivial compared to the surrounding destruction.

At first, Flash enjoys her time alone, glad for the break from their strained marriage. While Brando waits patiently for her arrival in Baghdad, she continues to accept small freelance jobs and visits her list of desired tourist destinations in Istanbul.

After two weeks, Flash receives a letter stating the Brando is having an affair in Baghdad, and Flash’s inner battle begins – the constant, internal dialogue, the nagging pre-occupation with not knowing the truth. She starts to wonder if she ever loved him, and if he truly missed her or just the fact that she follows behind him. Consumed by doubt and resentment, she searches his office, looking for clues. She struggles with insecurity, realizing how much time she’s spent in their marriage waiting around for him to return from assignments. Rather than confront him by phone, she tells herself she’s waiting to see him in person, to see his face when she asks. He senses through their phone conversations that something isn’t quite right, and now, he’ll be the one waiting for her.

In the days following the arrival of the letter, she wanders aimlessly through the city, obsessing about the letter and the supposed sender, Mira. Feelings of insecurity, paranoia and inferiority overwhelm her, depleting her concentration and preventing her from working.

Then Flash realizes she’s being followed by a mysterious woman in a black abaya, and that she’s seen her a number of times in her daily travels. The woman finally reveals herself outside Flash’s apartment, and she instantly remembers Alexandra from their previous travels in Afghanistan. She continues to show up unexpectedly and uninvited, and her beauty and charisma make Flash feel awkward and self-conscious. Flash is suspicious of her constant presence, and wonders if Alexandra has anything to do with the letter. But Alexandra denies having anything to do with it, and her reaction is cool, calm, and unsympathetic.

Insomnia and migraines take over, and Flash paces through the nights while her upstairs neighbors argue violently, screaming and dragging furniture across their floor. Unable to decide whether she should return to the States, or join her husband in Iraq, exhaustion takes her on a downward emotional spiral of packing and unpacking the new suitcase she purchases in the marketplace. It’s no longer clear to her where her true home is.

Alexandra’s presence stirs up many restless memories for Flash. Night and day she’s consumed with flashbacks to her time in Afghanistan with Brando, Alexandra, and Alexandra’s boyfriend, Amir. Then Alexandra’s lonely, insecure side is exposed at a party they attend together, and Flash relaxes around her, feeling a mutual empathy for their situations. But it’s the last she’ll see of Alexandra in Istanbul. A week later, she sends Flash an e-mail, saying she’s leaving on a flight for Amman.

An unexpected tragedy forces Flash to realize that her self-righteous martyrdom has conveniently distracted her from her own shortcomings, leaving her a self-made victim. Four years later, Flash runs into Alexandra, who confesses the real reason she pursued Flash in Istanbul. Relishing the moment, she finally exposes the truth to Flash about the hurtful betrayal they had ignored all along. Now both women would have to deal with their own sordid pasts in order to get on with their lives.

Maybe it’s Flash who figuratively threw the first bomb, or shot the first bullet on the battlefield of her marriage. But who would be the first to wave the white flag? Universal or personal, there are no winners when any war ends, and the true enemy is sadly revealed after the damage has been done.

This novel is well written, and just the right length. Ana Menéndez does a wonderful job of bringing the character’s humanity to the page. Written in first person, the author places us right in Flash’s psyche, along with her anxieties, insecurities and their extreme accompanying emotions. The intricately layered themes of war and conflict on all levels are something that every reader will relate to while reading this story.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 28 readers
PUBLISHER: Harper; 1 edition (May 26, 2009)
REVIEWER: Beth Chariton
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Ana Menendez
EXTRAS: An earlier interview with Ana Menedez (2001)
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More war torn stories:The Distance Between Us by Masha Hamilton

Forgive Me by Amanda Eyre Ward

Certainty by Madeline Thien

More by Ana Menendez:

Adios, Happy Homeland


August 10, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: Turkey, World Lit

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