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4.5 stars.
In Ana Menendez's beautifully and elegantly written novel, the wars that "Flash" and her husband Brando (aka "Wonderboy") have covered become the backdrop to a domestic war dividing them in spirit even more than they are becoming divided in fact and in experience. Brando heads off to Iraq to cover yet another war and the early stages of the insurgency, chronicling the growing violence for the newspaper for which he writes. Flash, a photographer, remains in their new apartment in Istanbul, doing isolated freelance assignments (such as photographing Ottoman tombs) but mostly wandering the city and wondering what has happened to her life. "We were the war junkies: Eros and Chaos, endlessly drawn to the ragged margins where other people hated and died. It was as if we believed constant movement would deliver us finally from the disappointments of an ordinary life." War, she realizes, has been the bond between her and `Wonderboy'. "In Sri Lanka, we lay beneath mosquito netting for the first time and listened to bombs falling in the distance. When I slipped out of bed to shoot from the window, he yelled: It's dangerous! In Kargil, the crashing was a little closer, the road that took us there more perilous. At night, the hotel windows rattled from the concussions. In Kashmir, for the first time, he said the sound of shelling just over the hills sounded beautiful, like summer."

But now Flash feels everything is slipping out of control. The technical demands of her profession have changed; she must adapt to new digital camera technologies. That's the easy part, however. She's increasingly wondering whether wandering from one conflict to the next, chronicling death and disaster, is the life she wants to live or whether she is simply being towed along in Brando's wake. Is it making her too emotionally distant, as a friend claims? Then, one day a letter arrives for Flash in Istanbul, claiming that Wonderboy is having an affair with a woman in Iraq, a letter that causes a domestic cold war to flare even as the shooting war in Iraq heats up. An emotional distance builds between the couple, one that will have unexpected consequences for everyone.

The plot here isn't one that will satisfy a reader looking for dramatic events and larger-than-life characters. It's essentially a book revolving around Flash and her introspection, written in the first person. But for the most part it's nuanced and thoughtful, to the point where at times the reader begins to wonder, along with Flash, what is reality and what may be stress-induced hallucinations or delusions. There are a couple of bumpy spots that prevented me from awarding this startlingly-good novel a fifth star. Its final section feels rushed and abrupt, with the two major plot twists that feel a bit contrived. The other is some of the dialogue, particularly that of Flash's `friend', Alexandra. The ornate writing is appropriate for Flash's stream of consciousness, but less so for dialogue like this, when Alexandra confronts her with her shortcomings: "Take one Flash, average-looking woman, icy in her own way. Falls in love with dashing, gorgeous, remote Boy Wonder. He, a master of words; she, involved with the surface of things, with small frozen moments, disconnected story lines." Or, later, ""Life--a genuine life--is about fighting the dulling influence of adaptation." It's beautiful writing, but unconvincing and unnatural dialogue.

That said, this is still a gem of a novel, replete with some of the most beautiful language I've read in many months, as well as witty observations ("an American-style supermarket was just the thing to restore a sense of order and optimism"). It's a story of different kinds of domestic conflict and personal/internal conflict set against a larger and unseen violent war.

Recommended to readers who value powerful characters and language and who is looking for a novel jam-packed with ideas and images rather than dramatic action.
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on June 28, 2009
Not nearly enough has been written about the courage exhibited by those who are sent to war-torn countries to provide the rest of us accounts of what is actually happening or has happened in these places. I want to write a different type of "review" because I know, although not well, the author who is very much missed as a columnist at The Miami Herald. So I also know that this novel is based upon her own experiences, not as a war correspondent because, to my knowledge, she was not. But as the wife of a New York Times journalist, Dexter Filkins, who spent the first few years of the horror inflicted upon the Iraqi people. This is a poignant novel, told from the point of view of Flash, the woman married to another journalist and tells the story not only of the war but of what happens to relationships when circumstances change the path a married couple thought they would be traveling together. Ana is a remarkable writer, and it shines through in this novel.
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on July 4, 2009
Beautifully written but sad and with a wistful, unresolved feeling. Two war junkies grow apart, and the photographer (wife) half is, as ever, "the last to know" until she receives a mysterious letter. As I understand it, the plot is loosely based on real events.
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on July 6, 2009
The Last War is an extraordinarily searing book. It is set against the background of war and while it illuminates that, it also takes us deep into the nuances of isolation, marriage, friendship and ambivalence. While this is a book about foreign correspondents, it will also be deeply familiar to those who have "merely" traveled in the land of marriage. Or fought with themselves over whether or not to take the exciting fork in the road, or the one that might be safer. The Last War is a spare book of 225 pages - and yet in those pages it explains much of the core of human nature.
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on August 4, 2009
I received a copy of this book from Goodreads (thank you so much) and was very interested since I had been an expat myself and lived in several countries overseas. The Last War states it is "a breathtaking novel of love, war and betrayal". Flash is a photographer and is married to Wonderboy, a journalist. They both cover war stories, sometimes together and sometimes apart. At the beginning of the book, Flash is in Istanbul and Brando (wonderboy) is in Iraq. Flash is waiting for a visa to join him but really has little intention of joining him. Most of the book is Flash's thoughts, depression, street wanderings and indulgences. She receives a letter that tells her Brando has been unfaithful which feeds her depression and inward focus.
There is some minor coverage of the wars, bombings, but it is very minor. There is some description of the towns, cities and countries they are traveling in, but again that is mostly minor. The story line reads a little like a soap opera. I felt like Flash is very self indulgent and being able to spend many months in a nice apartment in Istanbul without having to work or actually do anything seems unrealistic.
With all my travels and time spent as an expat, none of the story line rang true to me. Granted, I was not a journalist, but I did live and work in many foreign countries. There are parts of the story line that seem to be going somewhere, and then it fizzles and never really grabs me. I see glimpses of greatness but mostly just find average writing. Maybe for someone that has never traveled the experience would be different. The Last War could have benefited from some great editing and additional details of the environment.
This book would be a good read for someone that is interested in the subjects of depression, inner reflection and love lost. It doesn't, in my opinion, live up to its hype of "a breathtaking novel of love, war and betrayal".
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on July 27, 2010
I spent a good thirty minutes trying to think of ways to begin this review. The biggest challenge stems, as always, from my opinion of the book; an opinion that's torn.

On one hand I can appreciate the story being told; the story of a broken marriage, a woman used to peering into the lives of others and having to, ultimately, examine herself with that lens. There's a touch of mystery, did "Wonderboy" cheat or did he not cheat? Who wrote that damning letter? Did the letter actually affect the already strained relationship between "Flash" and "Wonderboy" or was it broken beyond repair before it appeared?

Then, on the other hand, I wanted to reach into the book and just slap some sense into the selfish bitch that was "Flash". As a privileged American I took the rebukes of the author to heart; yes, I get that war and famine and death is happening around the world and I get that, honestly, it does not affect my daily life. Sure I can pray about it - but I am not different than the majority of Americans out there going to work and play without much thought spared toward the hardships of those around the globe. But "Flash" didn't seem to learn any of this ... in fact, I didn't see that she learned much of anything at all except maybe not to judge without speaking to the individual first.

What it all boiled down to was that, for me, this was not a good read. I had to force myself through the last half of it and in fact enjoyed the "About the Author" more than I did the story itself. The Author wrote her "About me" section talking about the preparation of food and the comfort that simple alchemy can give. That I could relate to, more than anything she had written about "Flash".

I'm not going to steer you away from this book; I don't know enough about your lifestyle to know if it would help you or not. I'm just here to tell you that this was a book that evoked some strong reactions in me; some of which were not good.
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VINE VOICEon August 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Ana Menendez's novel is her third and most personal.It tells the story of a woman photojournalist married to a war correspondent, and a time in their life when things were falling apart. A letter and a chance at betrayal. A good novel but not outstanding, until you discover that the author, Ana Menendez, was married to a war correspondent, Dexter Filkins, and a letter and a real betrayal occurred. Aha, now this novel becomes much more interesting.

'Flash' the nickname of writer who is telling this story, was a photojournalist in war torn countries. She followed her husband, Brando, or Wonderboy, as she called him to the dangerous places. They worked as a team. Now, he was in Afghanistan and she was in Istanbul, awaiting her papers to join her husband. But, she knows she won't be joining him. Things have changed, some deterioration in their relationship has occurred, and she is sitting waiting for something to happen. They communicate by phone and email. On a day much like any other, Flash receives a letter from someone who tells her that her husband is having an affair, and she deserves to know. This letter changes her entire life and how she looks at and how she feels for her husband. She does not, for some unknown reason, question Brando or tell him about this letter. She tries to investigate herself, but gets nowhere. She seems to be caught in a web of not knowing and not wanting to know. An anonymous letter but it serves as a vessel for all her questions. She stays in Istanbul, stays alone, and visits the city and looks for all of the interesting places and things that this city has to offer. But, always in the back of her mind is this letter. The letter has destroyed her life as she knows it. Alexandra, a woman friend pops in and out of her life and brings her fun and interesting places to go and fun things to do. But this serves as a respite. She does not have to face the music, and she does not have to confront the truth. The times and events of her marriage flash before her eyes, and we learn a little here and a little there. But not enough to completely understand life on the frontlines of war and life with a chance of betrayal..

'The Last War' appears to be written for Ana Menendez to lay out the issues at hand .of a betrayal and a marriage lost But, most of us do not know that, so the novel does not appear to be as interesting as it really is. There is a part of the novel that needs to be told, and the author has left out the most interesting piece. It is well written but there is more that we need to know. I know it, and it gave me insight into this novel. I understand the emotional aspect of Flash and so much more.

Recommended. prisrob 08-05-09
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VINE VOICEon January 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Lost War was disappointing at best. Having lived overseas, including in war zone situations, I hoped the author would touch upon the complexities of life in these unique microenvironments. However, the novel focused on the narrator, Flash, who was disjointed and had incomprehensible motives. The story opens with Flash describing her life in Istanbul, one of the worlds most vibrant cities, and the marriage that led her to this point. Flash described Istanbul and her activities with lackluster ennui, sharing her unhappiness with the reader, but not her motives. Flash is clearly unsatisfied with the status quo, but doesn't bother to explain why. Her husband, a war correspondent, is in Iraq shortly after the US invasion. She's awaiting accreditation to join him in her role as a photo journalist. As with every element of her life, she is indifferent and unconnected to the job that has theoretically led her around the world and into frequent danger.

In this limbo, Flash receives an anomnyous letter that her husband is cheating and her world falls apart. She spends the majority of the rest of the book drinking wine and talking with Alexandra, a friend from a previous assignment. Alexandra, has left her husband, described as trying to steal her wildness, and embarked into the post-conflict ex-pat chaos. Flash seems envious of Alexandra's freedom, yet takes no action to sieze her own. The story alternates between the present, wine-laden days of inaction in Istanbul and Taliban Afghanistan, where Flash, her husband and Alexandra had all worked together. The only strong thread is Flash's unhappiness and dissatisfaction, laced with occasion notes to emphasize that war is bad. Eventually, Flash is set free through an uncomfortable plot point, only to yet again fail to take advantage of her freedom, and ultimately learn that her husband wasn't the terrible character she painted in her mind. She leaves again, to continue her aimless drift through life.

Flash's disconnection from everything in her life made it impossible to care about her. She's the daughter of Dominican immigrants, but showed no interest in or connection to that history and culture. She was a photo-journalist, but was uninterested in her career. She percieved that she'd given up everything for a husband that through her own recollections, she never seemed to love. She fought for nothing and eventually ended up with nothing. I had hoped the story would show the difficulties of transitioning between the "normal" world and conflict and post-conflict realities, the strange experiences of an expats life abroad, even the difficulties of living through war, in the strange position of a civilian observer, but Flash's selfish preocuptation with her own dissatisfaction - a dissatisfaction she never took the effort to analyze or try to fix - kept her from connecting to the world around her and sharing elements of her journey which could have been interesting with the reader.
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VINE VOICEon December 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Ana Menedez writes brilliantly and beautifully. She creates a sense of place that is tangible and amazingly real; after reading "The Last War" you will feel like you have yourself lived in Istanbul, the location where most of the novel takes place; you will know the markets, the crowds, the Bosphorus in the evening, the quality of the light in the morning, the sounds of the call to prayer.

But novel writing is, after all, story-telling, and Ms. Menendez is less of a story-teller than a writer. She draws her protagonist well, but the supporting characters lack dimension. They are there to interact with the protagonist and aid in her development, but they fall short in existing in their own right. And so the story drags along as it unfolds. The heroine, a photo-journalist, has a husband who is a war correspondent who is on an extended assignment in Iraq. Early in the novel, a letter arrives telling the protagonist of his infidelity. The rest of the story is about her reactions, and it takes a while to tell as the tale moves forward with a lot of seeming repetition. Alexandra, an old friend of "Flash" (as our heroine is nicknamed), arrives on the scene and acts as a means of drawing out Flash's reactions and feelings.

To say more would spoil the ending, but all may not be as it seems, and Flash's own secret is eventually revealed in a series of flashbacks to an earlier year when she and Wonderboy (as she calls her husband) were in Afghanistan in the days of Taliban rule.

In telling her story, the author gives us a message about life and love under unusual circumstances, but the message seems general enough. There is a message too about war and peace. The theme in the end is that "the warrior always triumphs over the poet." That seems to be true about this novel as well. Ms. Menendez is a spectacular poet. But her poesy does not triumph over the need to tell an engaging story and to develop her characters. Finally, despite superb writing and a strong effort to deliver her message, the warrior forces of flatness emerge triumphant.

Surely we'll hear more from this author. She needs to hone her story-telling craft, and when she does, she will become a great novelist. But, in "The Last War" we clearly see that the day has not quite arrived.
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VINE VOICEon November 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The writing is first rate, but if you are looking for something profound about the war or the Middle East, forget it. The storyline goes along at quite a clip, but is interspersed with flashbacks of a rather hair raising event when the main protagonist, Flash, and her husband were on assignment in the past. It takes ages to find out the whole point of it, and really, it is rather wasted by the end of the book.

I really wanted to like the protagonist, but she lives such an escapist fantasy, with no thought of the consequences of her actions, or inactions, that it is difficult. The question of who did or did not send the letter alleging her husband's infidelities is almost a moot point, since the '300 pound elephant in the room' never even gets discussed with her husband "Wonderboy". She just goes on a tear and decides to trust anyone other than the man she is married to, including the clearly after something Alexandra.

The whole end of the novel left a bitter taste in my mouth for a number of reasons (no spoilers) but also because I never liked either female protagonist and felt more for the husband, even though we never get to see him through any other eyes than his rather sneering wife's.

All in all, this is a worthy novel with some great prose, but a lot of soap opera and cliches.
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