The Last War
Other Editions of This Title:
“[A] potent literary novel . . . A deft portrait of an estranged couple whose pain is veiled by the fog of war.” —People
From the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq to the strange, shimmering streets of Istanbul, The Last War is a “seductive meditation” (O, The Oprah Magazine) on cruelty and violence, love and identity from Pushcart Prize-winning author Ana Menéndez.
Photojournalist Flash chases conflicts around the globe with her war correspondent husband, Brando. Now Brando is in Iraq awaiting her arrival, but instead of racing to join him, Flash idles in Istanbul, vaguely aware that her marriage is faltering. Her malaise is compounded by the arrival of a mysterious letter revealing Brando's infidelity—and by the sudden appearance of Alexandra, a fierce and captivating colleague who shared dangerous days with the couple in Afghanistan. As Flash spirals deeper into regret, anger, and indecision, she wonders if she and Brando were ever really happy—as she's forced to confront long-buried secrets and hard truths about her world, her marriage, her husband, and herself.
The Last War is a breathtaking novel of love, war, and betrayal from the critically acclaimed author of Loving Che and the New York Times Notable Book, In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd.
Praise For The Last War: A Novel…
— O, The Oprah Magazine
“Menéndez’s descriptions of the city are haunting and shadowy. . . . A precise and subtle book, full of finely realized flashbacks, the narrator’s memories of a marriage and detailed descriptions of Istanbul and of the experience of adjusting to another home, another culture.”
— Miami Herald
“[A] potent literary novel . . . A deft portrait of an estranged couple whose pain is veiled by the fog of war.”
“[An] impressionistic and introspective tale . . . Menéndez offers astute and perceptive commentary on both the hidden and obvious effects of war and its aftermath.”
“Poetic, atmospheric, and introspective . . . A quietly piercing cultural and philosophical think-piece, comparable in its low-key, allusive moodiness to a European art-house movie.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“Menendez shows with unblinking honesty in her self-assured second novel The Last War how in conflict and its aftermath journalists can find or lose themselves. . . . Mendendez’s deep wisdom about people and their relationships is the payoff that always makes this insightful author worth reading.”
— St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“An exquisitely crafted work . . . A novel, lyrically written, that feels strikingly real and heartfelt, a narrative by a woman destroying herself with imagination and doubt.”
— Denver Post
“Menendez is a skilled novelist - even admirers of her acclaimed short story collection, In Cuba I was a German Shepherd or her earlier novel, Loving Che, will be impressed with the deepening maturity of her writing. . . . [A] fully convincing psychological portrait.”
— South Florida Sun Sentinel
“Ana Menendez’s The Last War offers us a moving and probing portrait of lovers and media warriors in this poignant and touching novel of crumbling friendships and marriages--betrayals, large and small--in a dicey and dangerous world.”
— Edwidge Danticat, author of Breath, Eyes, Memory and Brother, I'm Dying
Praise for IN CUBA I WAS A GERMAN SHEPHERD: “A raucous, heartfelt debut...Deft, talented and hilarious....”
— Junot Diaz
Praise for IN CUBA I WAS A GERMAN SHEPHERD: “Powerful... A bright debut that points to even brighter accomplishments to come.”
— Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
Praise for IN CUBA I WAS A GERMAN SHEPHERD: “Menendez taps into [a] wellspring of broken promises and unfulfilled desires and gives us a ... peek at ... the Cuban-American experience.”
— Miami Herald
Praise for LOVING CHE: “[Loving Che] puts [Menendez] in the company of other Latino writers such as Junot Diaz and Sandra Cisneros.”
— Vanity Fair
Praise for LOVING CHE: “A tart fable about history and identity that is equal parts detective story, travelogue and fever dream...Inventive and hypnotic...[An] evanescent pas de deux.”
— Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Powerful. . . . A bright debut that points to even brighter accomplishments to come.”
— Michiko Kakutani, New York Times on In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd
“Menendez taps into [a] wellspring of broken promises and unfulfilled desires and gives us a . . . peek at . . . the Cuban-American experience.”
— Miami Herald on In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd
“A tart fable about history and identity that is equal parts detective story, travelogue and fever dream. . . . Inventive and hypnotic. . . . [An] evanescent pas de deux.”
— Los Angeles Times Book Review on Loving Che
“[Loving Che] puts [Menendez] in the company of other Latino writers such as Junot Diaz and Sandra Cisneros.”
— Vanity Fair on Loving Che
“[The Last War] speaks to Ana Menéndez’s maturity--as a woman and a writer. . . . A character study of those who have found their purpose in bearing witness to bloodshed.”
— New York Times Book Review
Harper Perennial, 9780061724770, 256pp.
Publication Date: June 29, 2010
About the Author
Ana Menéndez is a 2008 Fulbright scholar and the Pushcart Prize-winning author of two works of fiction, In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd, which was a New York Times Notable Book, and Loving Che. She has worked as a columnist for the Miami Herald and has also contributed to The New Republic, the New York Times, and Gourmet, as well as several anthologies. She lives in Miami, Florida.
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- What does the title, The Last War, mean to you? Do you see human relationships as their own battle zone?
- This novel is full of visual and sensuous details about Istanbul--food, wine, colors. What did you feel like you gained from living in Flash's experience of Istanbul? Has this novel altered or enhanced your notions of that city?
- What are your impressions of Flash and Brando? Describe their relationship as both professional partners and romantic partners.
- How do you interpret the nicknames "Tunes" and "Wonderboy"? Do you feel they speak to an imbalance in the relationship?
- What do you make of Flash and Brando's fixation on war? Can you imagine sharing their excitement for it, and missing it when it's gone?
- Flash and Brando have very different relationships to war. Flash captures images, while Brando's phone calls are full of news about bombs and explosions. Do you think gender influences how we comprehend violence? Brando always wanted to be a soldier; is that how you see him? What about Flash—what aspirations did she have for herself?
- Most of the novel is spent with Flash waiting in Istanbul; what do you think she's waiting for?
- The couple's bad phone connection makes up a large part of their interaction throughout the novel. Can you chart the distance growing between Brando and Flash through their phone calls?
- Was the letter that Flash receives the main catalyst for the couple's marital problems? Why didn't Flash mention the letter to Brando? What would you have done?
- On p. 20 when dissecting the letter's words, Flash muses, "It had to be a woman, a woman full of unrealized desires and vague notions of romantic love. A man's taste for pain runs to its blunter forms." What is the meaning of her comment? Do you agree with her point of view? Do you think the letter was written by a woman?
- Memory is another of the novel's themes—flashbacks to the past, Flash's mention of her memory problems, her job as a photographer preserving moments in time. How does memory play into history? Is there such a thing as one story or truth?
- What role does Alexandra play in the novel? What does she add to the plot and to Flash's character?
- What do you think about Alexandra's decision to wear an abaya? Do you agree with Flash's statement on p. 65, "Isn't being a woman invisibility enough?" Do you think being female equates with being invisible? Why?
- Do you agree with Alexandra that Flash is "surface living" (p. 182)? Do you consider Flash to be emotionally removed? Do you see her as lonely?
- Did your feelings about Brando change over the novel? If so, how? Do you agree with Flash that his obsession with war is boyish (p. 161)?
- Were you surprised by Flash's revelations about events in Afghanistan? Why did she choose to act as she did? Did her admission change your view of Flash and her marriage?
- On p. 196 Flash states, "I am a photographer. I make pictures from the moments people forget, the moments that are gone in an instant" (p. 196). What is the significance of her profession to this novel? Is this story a photograph of a marriage?
- O, The Oprah Magazine calls the book, "a seductive meditation on ‘The end of desire. The terrible violence at the end of love.'" List the ways that Flash and Brando have hurt each other over the years.
- Late in the novel Flash runs through Istanbul, chasing the sound of a bomb going off, "I shot wildly, by instinct, not seeing the image. Feeling it. Hunting it." (p. 202). What do you make of Flash not taking photos for most of the novel and then throwing herself into this scene? Is it therapy, or further removal from the world?
- In an interview, the author explains, "Flash is a photographer who has made a life from peering into other people's suffering. Her camera reveals subtle insights. But she's never—until perhaps the very end—able to turn that probing lens onto herself." Why is it difficult for people so skilled at seeing others to see themselves? What finally enabled Flash to admit the truth about herself, her husband, and her marriage?
- At the novel's end, Alexandra offers a different portrait of Brando and his loyalty. Did you believe her? What were Flash and Brando's true natures? Did your feelings about the two characters change during the course of the novel?