Review: Sand Queen

Posted on February 22, 2012


Sand Queen
By Helen Benedict
Soho Press
August 2011
312 pages

Helen Benedict’s fictional portrait of female soldiers during the Iraq war is based on her research for The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq, which focuses on the true stories of five female soldiers.

This story, Sand Queen revolves around two young women caught up in the Iraq war. Specialist Kate Brady, 19, is a guard at a makeshift prison camp in the desert near Umm Qasr in southern Iraq during the early months of the war. Naema Jassim, 22, is a medical student and war refugee. She and her family fled their upper middle class lives in Baghdad to live with her grandmother in Umm Qasr. But soon after their arrival her father and younger brother were arrested and sent to the prison camp.

The two women meet only a few times at the prison camp when Naema comes to find out information on her father and brother. It is that connection that sets up an interesting juxtaposition of their lives in the midst of a hideous war. Kate comes from a Christian fundamentalist family background and is flung into a hellish life complicated by constant harassment and abuse by fellow soldiers and prison inmates. She is every bit as much a prisoner as the Iraqi men behind the concertina wire. Naema, on the other hand, comes from a family who values education above all else, even religion. The war has destroyed everything in her life and made her a prisoner of circumstances. How each woman struggles to cope with brutality, devastation, and loss is a captivating study in human nature. Although one can’t help but think under different circumstances – as in not war – these two “enemies” could have been friends.

Readers who are strong enough to see beyond the barrage of inhumanity portrayed throughout will recognize that war makes victims of everyone, which explains why Sand Queen reads a lot like a gripping horror story. The ruthless war devil lurks around every corner eager to suck the soul from another innocent life. And, like a really good horror story, this is an unrelenting page-turner that preys on your psyche. — Copyright (c) 2012 by Peggy Tibbetts

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