Monday, January 2, 2012

"One Hundred and One Nights"

Benjamin Buchholz served as a Civil Affairs Officer in Safwan, Iraq, from 2005 to 2006. His nonfiction book Private Soldiers was published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press in 2007.

He applied the Page 69 Test to One Hundred and One Nights, his first novel, and reported the following:
When I opened to Page 69 of One Hundred and One Nights my first reaction was 'ughh . . . not this page.' It's a section from a slightly off-kilter thread of backstory in the book. In that light, it doesn't fit very well as a representation for the main thrust of the novel, missing the spritely Layla character altogether. It is also a page I tinkered with in several revisions, mostly because it provides a lot of information in a short amount of space. In brief, the narrator's big brother comes back from training in Saddam's army prior to the Iran-Iraq war. He's boastful. He and his father renew their confrontation with the father providing a bit of foreshadowing in a silent, but hopefully creepy, way. I suppose that is the best part of page 69, a couple of lines of dialogue out of which a reader could parse a lot of fine distinctions between the various wars in Iraq and between the characters in this scene. Here are the relevant bits:
"The war will be over in three weeks," Yasin boasted.

"Don't be so sure," my father replied.

"We have the latest Soviet tanks on the ground, the latest MiGs in the sky," said Yasin.

"But they have religion," my father said...
In our largely secular Western mindset, what value does religion play when it comes to war? Is this father-character commenting on jihad, the legitimate Qur'anic compulsion to not only fight the 'lesser jihad' of physical war but also the 'greater jihad' of self-improvement and self-surrender to God's will? And how does the narrator's brother, this Yasin, in his adherence to technology, set himself up to seem false in comparison to his father's quiet doubt? These questions would be useful to a reader even when they think about and read about the young lady Layla who is fascinated with American pop culture, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Madonna, and The Beverly Hillbillies. Page 69 is a good counterpoint to Layla, laying out something very different, something much darker than her daydreams and fantasies and childish aspirations.
Learn more about the book and author at Benjamin Buchholz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue