2 out of 4 stars
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Have you ever heard of the concept of a “Deep State”? If you have, do you believe in it? The “Deep State”, in the American context, refers to a conspiracy theory which believes that collusion and cronyism exist within the highest echelons of society – from the political circle to massive capitalistic corporations. Essentially, members of this “Deep State” form a shadow group whose aim is to gain control of the United States via various figureheads.
William de Berg’s Divided We Stand makes use of this very concept to weave an exciting story of American politics, the military, and the drug trade. The reader follows a group of three brothers as they juggle various setbacks in their lives: Benny, a drug addict who eventually dies from an overdose (which kick-starts the story); Carlos, a journalist who ends up murdered when he seeks to avenge Benny; and Enrique, a high-ranking general in the American military who has to deal with the emotional fallout of both deaths.
I rather enjoyed reading Divided We Stand. De Berg has a way of telling a story that draws the reader into his fictional world – there are plenty of descriptions without being distracting, and the story is obviously thought out well. I could imagine, with startling clarity, most events that happened in the book, such as Carlos’s stay at Camp Bondsteel (a military base) as his brother Enrique’s guest, along with Benny’s physical (and sometimes emotional) reactions to the heroin he took, especially the last shot that led to his overdose. I particularly appreciated this, as it contributed immensely to my immersion in the story.
Nonetheless, there are still some aspects that would benefit from an editor’s help. Divided We Stand is clearly split up into three sections: Benny’s overdose, Carlos’s revenge, and finally, Enrique’s own tumultuous life, where he has to juggle dealing with his brothers’ deaths, his failing marriage, and the looming political coup that calls into question his own loyalties to his country. Rather than dividing the story so cleanly, it would be much better if the three brothers’ narratives were more closely interwoven, in order to create a more natural and smoother story flow.
Moreover, and regrettably, the portrayal of women in the novel is disappointing. Enrique, Carlos, and Benny are very well-constructed characters, and we get a lot of insight into their thought processes. However, female characters like Monica (Enrique’s wife), Catherine (Carlos’s ex), and Mercedes (Bennie’s baby mama) are, in stark contrast, flat and one-dimensional. We do not get much insight into these women’s mindsets; even the conversations between various women in the book revolve around either the men in their lives or their children. One might argue that the lack of well-rounded portrayals of female characters is because the book itself is highly focused on American politics and the American military. Nevertheless, I want to point out that it is extremely important to be aware of society’s problematic tendency to naturalise what is actually a socially constructed relationship between the terms “men” and “politics” (or “men” and “military”).
To conclude, William de Berg’s Divided We Stand definitely has its pros and cons, and it was difficult to decide on a rating. There are some capitalisation errors and missing commas, but they do not majorly disrupt the reading flow. Still, the lack of interwoven narratives and the presence of sexism leave me no choice but to give the book a rating of 2 out of 4 stars; however, I would give it 2.5 stars if I could. I decided against a 1-star rating, as the main (and male) protagonists were multidimensional, and the plot was engrossing enough that I finished the book in a single sitting. I would recommend William de Berg’s Divided We Stand to readers who believe in the concept of a “Deep State” and want to know more about the American military life, but they have to accept that the book can be insidiously sexist at times.
Divided We Stand
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