Novels set in the First and Second World Wars continue to come thick and fast – Anna Hope’s Wake, Louise Walters’ Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase, Audrey Magee’s The Undertaking, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, Alison Macleod’s Unexploded to name just a few of the very recent ones. They’re wonderful novels; however cruel it may be, war is rich with material for writers. Eleven Days is breaking new ground, not in writing about war, but in writing about the war between America and Afghanistan. It is a war novel, but not a period piece; it’s bleakly and starkly of now.
An affair at nineteen with a CIA analyst thirty years her senior left Sara pregnant, and the baby, Jason, is the centre of her life. However, Jason is no longer a baby – her intelligent, thoughtful, beloved son is now a soldier. And he is missing. The novel tells the story of the days during which Sara waits for news, with flashbacks to her son’s childhood. She comes to understand the process by which the sensitive, caring child came to join the military, and to appreciate his commitment to a controversial war. Jason’s godfather, a man of power and influence, goes to extraordinary lengths to bring the mother and son together; during the process, Sara begins to understand the sheer scale of her son’s involvement. As a mother, she is forced to realise that the unique qualities that made Jason, Jason, are also the qualities that his country needed, and that he gave them willingly.
Eleven Days does not debate American involvement in Afghanistan – it’s not a political novel, but an emotional one. Sara is a wonderful character – strong, independent, completely invested in her only child. Carpenter’s writing is convincing and compelling; in Eleven Days, she has created a modern and uncompromising hymn to military brilliance, to duty and above all, to maternal love.