by Brian Van Reet


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"The finest Iraq War novel yet written by an American"— Wall Street Journal, 10 Best Novels of the Year

"An electrifying debut" (The Economist) that maps the blurred lines between good and evil, soldier and civilian, victor and vanquished.

Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence

It is April 2003. American forces have taken Baghdad and are now charged with winning hearts and minds. But this vital tipping point is barely recognized for what it is, as a series of miscalculations and blunders fuels an already-simmering insurgency intent on making Iraq the next graveyard of empires.

In dazzling and propulsive prose, Brian Van Reet explores the lives on both sides of the battle lines: Cassandra, a nineteen-year-old gunner on an American Humvee who is captured during a deadly firefight and awakens in a prison cell; Abu Al-Hool, a lifelong mujahedeen beset by a simmering crisis of conscience as he struggles against enemies from without and within, including the new wave of far more radicalized jihadists; and Specialist Sleed, a tank crewman who goes along with a "victimless" crime, the consequences of which are more awful than any he could have imagined.

Depicting a war spinning rapidly out of control, destined to become a modern classic, Spoils is an unsparing and morally complex novel that chronicles the achingly human cost of combat.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316316170
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 04/24/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 718,823
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Brian Van Reet was born in Houston. Following the September 11th attacks, he left the University of Virginia, where he was an Echols Scholar, and enlisted in the U.S. Army as a tank crewman. He served in Iraq under stop-loss orders, achieved the rank of sergeant, and was awarded a Bronze Star for valor. He has twice won the Texas Institute of Letters short story award. This is his first novel.

What People are Saying About This

author of Norumbega Park - Anthony Giardina

"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."

author of The Son and American Rust - Philipp Meyer

"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."

author of Redeployment - Phil Klay

"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."

author of The Yellow Birds - Kevin Powers

"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."

bestselling author of A God in Ruins - Kate Atkinson

"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 humanize 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."

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Spoils 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
EPClark More than 1 year ago
Specialist Cassandra Wigheard is a tough girl from Arkansas who joined the army looking for adventure. What she got was deployment to Iraq and lots of close proximity with aspiring rapists, first from her own comrades in arms, then from the mujahideen who capture her and want to use her as a propaganda piece against the US. "Spoils" is the kind of gritty war prose you'd expect about Iraq, but is focused much more on the inner workings of the characters' minds, and much less on porn, swearing, and guns than the typical offering. Although Cassandra is the main focus, the point of view switches between her, Sleed, another American soldier, and Abu Al-Hool, the increasingly disaffected senior man in the group of foreign mujahideen who is torn between his convictions, his distaste for the methods of some of his comrades, and his sorrow over the death of his son in Chechnya. All three characters are sympathetic and well-rounded, even as they go against their stereotypes: Cassandra as the gung-ho tough girl who has to act smart in order to survive, Sleed as the accidental screw-up, and Abu Al-Hool as the older fighter who is starting to wonder if things are going the right way. The intercutting of the different points of view builds the tension in the masterful manner of a suspense novel, so fair warning: although this book is less gruesome than some (which is not to say it doesn't have its gruesome or simply squeamishness-inducing moments), it can be hard to read simply because of the growing tension. The prose style is more lyrical than the profanity-laced terseness often affected by war writers, although it tends towards the spare rather than the lush, not wanting to get in the way of the escalating action, most of which takes place inside the characters. In short, "Spoils" is a war novel that is more than just a war novel, but a genuinely good piece of fiction that uses the Iraq war as the ground for an examination of the human experience.
SiobhanMFallon More than 1 year ago
INCREDIBLE. I finished this novel and sat in bed feeling like I had been punched, I was so utterly moved. Then I stayed there for a few minutes shaking my head and muttering to myself while my husband repeatedly asked me what was wrong. Spoils is the best kind of writing, the best kind of novel, a book populated by real people. That sounds like a throw away phrase, 'real people,' but you know it when you read it. The events in the novel are pretty sensational: American soldiers, including a woman, are taken prisoner by a rag tag group of Al Queda like fighters. There are three main characters who take turns voicing the chapters: male US soldier, female US soldier, Egyptian/Al Queda-like leader. It would have been very easy to make these characters into types, and too often in the crop of mil related fiction I've been reading, the 'local national/insurgent' characters are flimsy and idealized, and frankly, boring as all hell in their stilted nobility. But not in Spoils, Abu Al-Hool is just as complicated and remarkably nuanced, if not more so, than anyone else. And Cassandra Wigheard, the captured female American soldier, is spot on, not once did I feel like Brian Van Reet was testing his authorial limits by speaking in such a close third person from a woman's point of view. And Sleed, arguably most flawed of the three, is still someone the reader can't help but feel for, root for, hoping that his natural weakness will somehow be forged into stronger stuff. Again, the human quality of these characters, these figments made up of ink on paper, was just staggering. They breathe and screw up, they break themselves and others. They are brave one moment and devastated the next; they are so alive. The tension of the story will also keep you racing through the pages until you too reach the end, and sit stunned by it's greatness. I highly recommend.