A Guardian Book of the Year
'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.
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.