cover image Somewhere in a Desert

Somewhere in a Desert

Dominique Sigaud. Arcade Publishing, $22.95 (128pp) ISBN 978-1-55970-492-2

""The war was over. In the middle of the desert a man lay dead."" This is the haunting image reverberating throughout French journalist Sigaud's fervent, and somewhat overwrought, first novel. Set along the border of Iraq and Saudi Arabia at the end of the Gulf War, the story is related in the lyric cadences of a fable. American soldier John Paul Miller knows the war is over, but disoriented and possibly delirious, he drifts off aimlessly from his command post. Wandering past a village, Miller is shot by a blind man's son and dies. Villager Ali ben Fakr and wife Nour al-Koutoubi transcend enmity and tend to Miller's body. His African-American wife, Mary, receiving reports that her husband is missing in action, travels to the desert and, teaming with French minesweeper Robert Natua, discovers the site of her husband's burial in the desert and chooses to leave him where he fell. In Sigaud's circular plot, questions about the details of Miller's death are answered, but the meaning of his death remains elusive. Mary's grieving, vivid memories of her husband suffuse the story with her loss, driving home the point that his death was senseless and suggesting the same of other casualties of national conflicts. (Sigaud emphasizes that Miller was Jewish, Mary is black, the villagers are Muslim.) A terse meditation on war, the book begins with a quotation from French writer J.M.G. Le Cl zio. ""War has begun. No one knows where or how, but it has begun. Mouth open, it stands behind you, whispering. When it is over, no one will remain standing. No one will be spared."" The original French title, L'Hypoth se du d sert (The Hypothesis of the Desert) better captures the tone of this dark, searching story: a poetic interrogation of the machine of war from the perspectives of those annihilated and those mourning. (Oct.)