How to describe a book like THE WATCH? The publishers say it's a modern retelling of Sophocles' ANTIGONE, which is one hell of a hat trick to pull off (and author Roy-Bhattacharya succeeds admirably in this), but it is so much more than that. It is, perhaps more than anything else, an indictment of war itself, as well as a deeply felt homage to the men who fight our wars. Using several narrators in the course of the story, Roy-Bhattacharya deftly manages to convey the horror, the suffering, and the ultimate futility and waste of war. The central Afghan character is a woman grieviously wounded by the war who has lost her whole family to an American drone attack directed by faulty intelligence. Nizam, like Antigone, wants only to bury her dead brother Yusuf, known also as "Prince of the Mountains." Yusuf had led an attack on the isolated American garrison in a futile attempt to avenge his family. The crippled Nizam is single-minded and unmoving in her quest, explaining to the Americans "the duty that I must perform" -"I will dig the grave and place him in it, with his body facing the Quibla. Then I will say a prayer, pour three handfuls of soil over him, and recite: 'We created you from it, and return you into it, and from it we will raise you a second time.'..."Reading of this intended ritual, I could not help but notice the similarities to the Christian ritual of Ash Wednesday, with its prayer, "Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return." Another recent book about American misadventures in the Mideast also came to mind, Benjamin Busch's fine memoir, DUST TO DUST. Although Busch served with Marines in Iraq, his book could easily be read as an appropriate companion piece to THE WATCH. In fact, like Roy-Bhattacharya's fictional Lt Nick Frobenius, Busch was a Vassar graduate.There are so many stories within this novel that it approaches the status of epic. There is the career soldier in First Sergeant Marcus Whalen, a blues devotee raised by an aunt in Baton Rouge. And the medic, Sgt Taylor, responsible for the health of the whole garrison and charged with the safekeeping of the body of the slain Yusuf. There is 2Lt Garrison, a by-the-book officer who undergoes a transformation as he watches the vigil of the wounded girl outside the gates of the fort. There is the secretly gay company sniper, Simonis, an instrument of death, who ascribes to the "don't tell" rule, even as he is enticed the sexually ambiguous Afghan interpreter, Masood (who is presented in the narrative as the Greek character Ismene). Captain Connoly, the garrison commander, could perhaps be seen as Creon, trying to follow the military and political rules of engagement, cynically suspicious of the motives of Nizam/Antigone. But he too undergoes a gradual change, so perhaps the Creon figure here is represented by something else, something more shadowy and evil, as expressed by Lt Frobenius, a student of the Classics -"Creons, man, he says. We're run by a bunch of (expletive) Creons. His face twists with loathing ... [Creon] was a tyrant and a dictator, but he had nothing on these clowns. They're all suit and no soul. I tell you, man, the military is the only institution left in America with any conception of honor ... Think courage, endurance, integrity, judgement, justice, loyalty, discipline, knowledge. The rest of them - the civilian leadership, especially - are just a pile of crap. They've absolutely no vision. The politicians are shameless: all they care about is power. And the big businessmen and bankers look after their own ..." The rant continues, but you get the idea. And Frobenius is not the only one with ideals. Even the Tajik interpreter, Masood, whose whole family was wiped out by the Taliban, has his vision, telling Simonis -"I would like to tell all Americans - and I'm starting with you - that we need you to remain here until there is peace in our lands. Don't abandon us prematurely. You hold the responsibility for an entire people in your hands ... and the only mistake you've made so far is your support for our present government, which is completely self-serving and corrupt." With its distinctly drawn characters, both American and Afghan, officers and enlisted, THE WATCH presents an even-handed and microcosmic picture of the mess that is the American occupation of Afghanistan. The author manages to cover a wide spectrum of the devastation caused - from the annihilation of whole families and tribes on the Afghan side to the destroyed dreams, marriages, and lives of the soldiers serving far from family and home. Roy-Bhattacharya has done his homework and it shows, in writing which ranges from the sublime, in the dreamlike sequences scattered throughout the novel, to the profane, in the obscenity-laced language of the soldiers, with addled conversations which combine references to Ozymandias and Ozzy Osbourne and bands with names like Gethsemane and Dream Paranoia. The author is obviously even conversant in the near-insane language of contemporary music and chooses the names he uses with care, names that resonate and blend well in his story.THE WATCH is such an artistically complex accomplishment that I have barely skimmed its surface here. It is a book that should be read by politicians, but I don't hold out much hope that it will be. It will leave its readers with much to think about. I thought of other books I've read, which are somehat similar. I've already mentioned Benjamin Busch's memoir. But there is also Helen Bendict's fine novel, SAND QUEEN, about the plight of women in these misbegotten wars, both the civilian victims and the military women in our own armed forces. Or Britisher Patrick Hennessey's memoir of his military service in both Iraq and Afghanistan, THE JUNIOR OFFICERS' READING CLUB. Or from the Vietnam era, Sigrid Nunez's fine novel, FOR ROUENNA. There are connections galore, I'm sure. But THE WATCH may well indeed stand alone, as its publishers hope, as a singularly significant novel of the war in Afghanistan. I for one will not soon forget it. I recommend it highly.