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Sand Queen
Cover of Sand Queen
Sand Queen
A Novel
Borrow Borrow

This novel of female friendship in the midst of war is "The Things They Carried for women in Iraq" (The Boston Globe).

Nineteen-year-old Kate Brady joined the army to bring honor to her family and to the Middle East. Instead, she finds herself in a forgotten corner of the Iraq desert in 2003, guarding a makeshift American prison. There, Kate meets Naema Jassim, an Iraqi medical student whose father and little brother have been detained in the camp.

Kate and Naema promise to help each other, but the war soon strains their intentions. Like any soldier, Kate must face the daily threats of combat duty, but as a woman, she is in equal danger from the predatory men in her unit. Naema suffers bombs, starvation, and the loss of her home and family. As the two women struggle to survive and hold on to the people they love, each comes to have a drastic and unforeseeable effect on the other's life.

From the author of Wolf Season and The Lonely Soldier, and informed by numerous interviews with those who were there, Sand Queen is a "heartbreaking, vivid story of the particular difficulties of being not just a soldier, but a female soldier" (Bustle).

This novel of female friendship in the midst of war is "The Things They Carried for women in Iraq" (The Boston Globe).

Nineteen-year-old Kate Brady joined the army to bring honor to her family and to the Middle East. Instead, she finds herself in a forgotten corner of the Iraq desert in 2003, guarding a makeshift American prison. There, Kate meets Naema Jassim, an Iraqi medical student whose father and little brother have been detained in the camp.

Kate and Naema promise to help each other, but the war soon strains their intentions. Like any soldier, Kate must face the daily threats of combat duty, but as a woman, she is in equal danger from the predatory men in her unit. Naema suffers bombs, starvation, and the loss of her home and family. As the two women struggle to survive and hold on to the people they love, each comes to have a drastic and unforeseeable effect on the other's life.

From the author of Wolf Season and The Lonely Soldier, and informed by numerous interviews with those who were there, Sand Queen is a "heartbreaking, vivid story of the particular difficulties of being not just a soldier, but a female soldier" (Bustle).

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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    [ K A T E ]IT'S THE BIGGEST frigging spider I've ever seen in my
    life. From one hairy leg to the other, the whole thing's as long
    as my forearm. So I make sure it's dead first. Nudge it with
    the butt of my rifle till it flips over, limp and sandy. Then I
    pick it up by a leg, haul it into the tent like a shopping bag
    and nail it to the pole beside the head of my cot, right under
    my crucifix. That should keep Macktruck quiet, at least for
    the time being. He's terrified of spiders. Asshole.

    The whistling is loud outside the tent today; a creepy,
    skin-prickling sound I can never get used to. The desert
    whistles all day and night out here. The hissing whistle of
    the wind cutting past your helmet. The moaning whistle of
    it winnowing through the razor wire. I stand under the hot
    canvas a moment, just listening. And then it hits me again,
    that deep-down ache that makes me want to curl up and cry.

    "What the fuck are you doing, Brady?" It's Will Rickman,
    this bony young specialist in my squad with zitty skin
    and an Adam's apple twice the size of his brain.

    I wipe my hands on my pants. "Nothing."

    Rickman steps closer and squints at my spider. "Look at
    that thing. It's disgusting. It's fuckin' bleeding black ooze."

    "Don't talk like that about Fuzzy."

    Rickman raises his eyebrows. But all he says is, "Let's go,
    they're waiting."

    I pick up my rifle and follow him, sunglasses over my
    eyes, scarf over my mouth. Ducking against the wind, the
    sand whipping into my cheeks, I run to the Humvee and
    cram into the back behind the other guy in my team, DJ,
    and our squad leader, Staff Sergeant Kormick.

    "We got better things to do than wait while you powder
    your nose, Brady," Kormick shouts to me over the wind,
    shoving the Humvee into gear with a grinding wrench.
    "Don't keep us waiting again. Got it?"

    "Got it, Sar'nt."

    While we drive along the dirt road to the checkpoint,
    the guys shooting their usual bull, I gaze out the slit of a
    back window into the early morning light. Dirty gray sand
    stretches as far as I can see, blending so exactly with the
    dust-filled sky it obliterates the horizon. On either side of
    the road are rows of rectangular olive-drab tents, their roofs
    droopy and covered in dust. The ones on the left are for us,
    the ones on the right behind the loops of razor wire are for
    the prisoners. But other than that, there's nothing out there
    but an endless gray blur. And a tree.

    I like that tree, standing outside the wire all by itself in
    the middle of the desert. I call it Marvin. I spend so many
    hours staring at Marvin that I know every twist of his wiry
    little branches, every pinpoint of his needle leaves. I talk to
    him sometimes, compare notes on how we're doing.

    We rattle along for twenty minutes or so, while I sit in
    a daze, too tired to line up my thoughts in any kind of an
    order. We work twelve-to-fifteen-hour shifts, and even so
    I can never sleep. It's too damn hot and I'm sharing a tent
    with thirty-three snoring, farting members of the male sex,
    not to mention the prisoners only a few meters away, chanting
    and screaming all night long.

    As we near the checkpoint, the deep-down ache starts up
    again. I hate this.

    Sure enough, there they are. Fifty or so civilians waiting
    outside the wire, baggy clothes flapping in the wind.
    They've been coming every day for weeks now, arriving at
    dawn to stand in the sun for hours without moving, like
    shrubs. Most of them are women. Mothers and sisters, wives
    and daughters looking for their men.

    Kormick...

About the Author-
  • Helen Benedict, a Columbia University professor, has written four previous novels, five nonfiction books, and a play. Her novels have received citations for best book of the year from the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago and New York Public Libraries.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 13, 2011
    Two women, an Iraqi refugee whose father and young brother were detained by American soldiers, and a 19-year-old American Army Specialist, wrestle with the complexities of war in Benedict's thrilling and thoughtful new novel. Hot on the heels of the shock and awe attack of 2003, soldier Kate Brady meets Naema Jassim at Camp Bucca, a huge U.S. prison in Iraq. Naema and other Iraqis come daily in search of men detained by the Americans. Something about Naema, her English skills or medical background, calls to Kate, and they form an awkward relationship based in need. Wanting to do something good, Kate investigates the fate of Naema's family. Both women struggle with the war, the death of innocents, abuses of soldiers (both male and female), and atrocities witnessed; they dream of "a world where people have normal nonviolent lives." Kate's eventual deterioration—from an attempted rape and the official and unofficial backlash that follows, to the loss of a fellow female soldier—leads to her breakdown and hospitalization. Naema's stoicism in the face of hopelessness makes sense, and contrasts well with Kate's struggle to stay strong. Though Benedict (The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq) might have found Naema's soul, she never brings her off the page. Kate, however, is a character readers won't soon forget.

  • Kirkus

    July 15, 2011

    This bleak novel explores the horrendous impact of the Iraq war on women, both soldiers and civilians.

    Based on research conducted for her nonfiction study of women serving in Iraq (The Lonely Soldier, 2009, etc.), Benedict's fictional portrayal alternates the accounts of Kate, a young specialist stationed at Camp Bucca near Umm Qasr in Iraq, and Naema, a medical student whose family flees to the region after the catastrophic invasion and looting of Bagdad in 2003. Kate is one of three women in a barracks housing 33. Her worst enemies are not Iraqis (derogatorily known as hajjis) but her sergeant, Kormick, and another soldier nicknamed Boner. They sexually assault Kate (the exact nature of the assault is never revealed) on the day she is transferred to another detail, keeping watch in a guard tower overlooking the prison camp at Bucca. Shortly after Naema's family moves in with her grandmother, American soldiers arrest her father (crippled by torture under Saddam) and preteen brother. Naema goes daily to the camp, where she encounters Kate, who bucks authority to try to get information regarding Naema's relatives. The kindness of Kate's comrade Jimmy is so unexpected in this snakepit of a milieu that love between the two, though it exacerbates Kate's dilemma, is inevitable. As the pressures on Kate mount (her tough, seemingly invincible bunkmate is raped by Kormick and Boner, and Kate's attempts to file charges are laughed off), she revenges herself on the Iraqi detainees, who also single her out for torment because she is a woman. When, mistaking him for one of her prisoner-harassers, she brutalizes Naemas' father, her spiral of self-destruction accelerates. The enormity of the problems—the woeful inadequacy of soldier's equipment, the heat, the IEDs, the yawning gap between the mission of "liberation" and the chaos inflicted on Iraqis—that Benedict attempts to pack into such a brief space overwhelms the novel, fragmenting the storytelling into vivid but regrettably sketchy segments.

    A flawed but unforgettable testament.

    (COPYRIGHT (2011) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Booklist

    July 1, 2011
    Army Specialist Kate Brady has been deployed to Iraq. She and her fellow soldiers are serving in a remote army base, a makeshift prison camp housing Iraqi detainees. There she meets young medical student Naema, whose father and younger brother are being held. Kate agrees to let Naema act as a translator providing information to an increasingly angry mob of prisoners' families that gathers daily at the prison gates. Both women are facing uncertain futures. For Naema, the war has threatened home and family, and starvation is looming. For Kate, who joined the military to prove her toughness to her father, service has brought the violence of roadside bombings and a litany of abuse from male colleagues. This is an eye-opening novel that allows readers to step into the combat boots of a young, inexperienced female soldier living and working in a place where the line between friend and foe is nearly impossible to distinguish. Funny, shocking, painful, and, at times, deeply disturbing, Sand Queen takes readers beyond the news and onto the battlefield.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2011, American Library Association.)

  • Publishers Weekly "[A] thrilling and thoughtful new novel . . . [Kate] is a character readers won't soon forget."
  • Booklist "Funny, shocking, painful, and, at times, deeply disturbing, Sand Queen takes readers beyond the news and onto the battlefield."
  • Kirkus Reviews "This bleak novel explores the horrendous impact of the Iraq war on women, both soldiers and civilians ... [an] unforgettable testament."
  • Robert Olen Butler "Every war eventually yields works of art which transcend politics and history and illuminate our shared humanity. Helen Benedict's brilliant new novel has done just that with this century's American war in Iraq. Sand Queen is an important book by one our finest literary artists."
  • Roxana Robinson, author of Cost and Sweetwater "Helen Benedict's compelling story provides an intimate picture of what it means to be a soldier, what it's like to live on the battlefield, and what the ethical choices are that our troops have had to make in Iraq. Benedict tells her story from two perspectives--that of a young American woman--a soldier--and a young Iraqi woman--a medical student--both of whose worlds are ravaged by the war. At times funny, at times grimly painful, Sand Queen offers a new chapter in contemporary American history."
  • Valerie Martin, author of Trespass "Every American who claims to value the lives of our soldiers should read this powerful, harrowing, and revelatory novel."
  • Los Angeles Times "A stunning chronicle of abuses suffered by women enlisted in the U.S. Army and serving in Iraq."
  • New York Daily News "A comedy of bad manners reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh."
  • Women's Review of Books "Benedict has written a novel lush with exoticism yet rooted, finally, in the common experience of what it is to love."
  • Cleveland Plain-Dealer "[The Edge of Eden] reads as though it could have been written in the early 20th century, right alongside of the work of Evelyn Waugh and W. Somerset Maugham... [a] dangerous, mesmerizing tale."
  • Oscar Hijuelos, author of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love

    "A beautifully written novel by a most entertaining and accomplished writer... compelling, intelligent, insightful."
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A Novel
Helen Benedict
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