Monday, August 16, 2010

The Last War: A Novel

The Last War
By Ana Menendez
225 pages
Published June 2010 by Harper Collins Publishers
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Dominican-American photographer, Flash and her journalist husband, Brando, follow the wars, working as a team. But as the book opens Brando, aka Wonderboy, is in Iraq covering that conflict while Flash languishes in Istanbul, ostensibly held up while she's waiting for the necessary paperwork to come through. But Flash is held up more by the idea that her marriage is on the rocks. Then a letter from a person named "Mira" turns up (Flash can't recall knowing anyone named Mira), a letter that seems to insinuate that Mira and Flash are old friends and discloses to Flash past and present infidelities on Brando's part.

Suddenly Flash is packing to return to the U.S. then unpacking the next day, she's unable to work, she's wondering the streets of Istanbul. Her conflicted state of mind isn't made any better by the arrival of Alexandra, an old friend who has known Brando and Flash through some extreme times, or by the sporadic phones calls she gets from Brando who is alternatively angry with her or begging her not to leave him and who can't seem to call from his own room any more.

Menendez' writing is crisp and often poetic throughout most of the book, although I sometimes felt it meandered a bit. Maybe that was just me--I often found my mind wandering off as I read this book. Which might not be surprising given that that is what Flash was doing most of the book; the reader is often pulled into the past or through the streets of Istanbul. But my other problem was that I never connected to Flash. I didn't expect to be able to relate to her (nothing in my own life echoes hers) but I really wanted to be able to connect to her. Yet I couldn't understand why all of a sudden she was questioning her marriage. It seemed to me that Brando and Flash had always had a strange marriage, one where Flash was almost an afterthought even though she seemed to think of them as a team.

"No, my marriage had not been happy. Is anyone's? Everyone thought ours was. But it was just an ordinary marriage, the kind where happiness doesn't even enter into the reckoning. When you first meet, your love is a stranger. Years go by - you are bound together through moves, new cities, shared friends. You travel. You wake up and make love, you go out for dinner, you do the laundry. Beneath the surface of things, everything is changing except the one: the stranger you married is still the person you don't know."
Much is made of Flash's inability, unwillingness, to learn the language in any of the countries to which she has traveled, compounding her inability to feel at home any where. Much is also made of a faulty air conditioning unit and a couple that is constantly fighting in the apartment above Flash. All of which serve to add to Flash's frustration and also to point out the larger turmoil in the world around us.

One reviewer compared the book to a "European art house movie" and I would have to say that description is not far off. If you don't mind a slow paced read that is both deeply introspective while exploring larger world issues, then you will find "The Last War: A Novel" of interest. If you are a reader looking for characters you can relate to or a plot-driven novel, you will want to pass on this one.


Menendez is a Pushcart Prize winner and the author of several other books. She has worked as a columnist for the Miami Herald as well as contributed to The New York Times and The New Republic.

Thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me in this tour. For more opinions, see the full list of reviews.

7 comments:

  1. Interesting review! I love the comparison to a "European art house movie" - it enables us to know exactly what the reading experience is like and determine accordingly if it is for us or not!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I actually think this book sounds rather interesting. I am not bothered by a meandering plot every once in awhile and think that I am going to add this book to my wish list. Thanks for the great review!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great review. I really liked this book, though you are right, it wasn't really clear on why she thought at that point that their relationship was off. But by the end it kind of made more sense I thought.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Lisa, I really enjoyed your honest and thoughtful review of this book. Truthfully, its not something I would read, but its definitely a book that I would have picked up and debated buying if I were in a bookstore. It has a great cover and the story sounds like it would be interesting, but for some reason I would put it back down. I'm glad I read your review, because from what I gather, if you weren't able to find any connection to the protagonist, there was certainly no way I was going to find any connections. And that is important to me when I read a book - if I can't relate to the character, I want to at least be able to connect with the character on some level, or else the book fails for me. Anyhow, great review!

    ReplyDelete
  5. This sounds good and looks like one I would enjoy.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I love your description at the end - "European Art House Movie" evokes a very specific image for me and that is so helpful when reading a review.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour and for your well-considered review.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I don't think this one is for me! Thanks for the great review!

    ReplyDelete