In packed yet propulsive language, Prix Goncourt winner Gaudé (The House of Scorta) considers what war does to humanity. Going by the name Assem Graieb, a French intelligence officer hunts down Sullivan Sicoh, a disaffected former member of the U.S. Special Forces who saw it all during fighting in Afghanistan and has become a drug trafficker. But first Assem has one memorable night of passion with Mariam, an Iraqi archaeologist shattered by the loss of her country's antiquities. She even gives Assem a statuette that threads its way through the narrative as a symbol of endurance, but she won't connect with him further. Meanwhile, Gaudé effectively weaves in accounts of Agamemnon's sacrifice of Iphigenia, Hannibal's march against Rome, the U.S. Civil War, and Emperor Haile Selassie's rout by Italian troops to reveal war's devastation. Yet he also reminds us that we are only human in our defeats, and what we have lost somehow endures.
VERDICT Highly recommended for smart readers.