Gulf, by Robert Westall, is an amazing, amazing book. I read it recently during the war against Iraq. It was the seventh time I have read the book.
Gulf is about Figgis, a strange child who does abnormal things. In the book, they are called his Things. He will see something, hear something, read something, or discover a piece of information and immediately connect with it.
He will obsess over the Thing for days until it is simply over. Then he'll find a new Thing.
One of his most peculiar things happened when he saw an article in the newspaper. On the front page was a picture of a man. There was no caption underneath the picture with his name. Figgis suddenly wanted to write to the man. His parents managed to find out where the man lived, but they didn't know his name. Figgis wrote the man a letter. He began it, "Dear Charlie." When Figgis received a letter from the man, it was signed Charlie. It was addressed "Dear Andy", Figgis' real name. But the odd thing was that Figgis had signed the letter to Charlie "Figgis."
Then one night, Figgis' brother finds Andy muttering in a strange language. When Figgis awakes, he doesn't remember ever doing it and he can't speak the language. After that, it happens more and more. Every night, Figgis becomes someone else. He doesn't know Tom, his own brother. He climbs to the rooftop one night and sits there, speaking in the strange, harsh language, muttering to himself.
After a while, you find out what has happened to Figgis. He is speaking Arabic. He is experiencing what a soldier in the Gulf War is.
Figgis is taken to a mental hospital. There he speaks the language to himself, wears Army clothing, builds bunkers around himself, and uses a gun that the hospital staff found him. The Arabic soldier has taken Figgis over. Figgis not only experiences the soldier's life at night, now he IS the soldier the entire day.
Everything is made worse by everything else. Figgis no longer exists. It is like some terrible disease has taken him away from his family and friends. His dad, a true patriot, is always screaming at the television and watching in glee as more enemy soldiers are killed. Now his son is one.
This book is a somber, scientific read. It's definitely not for everyone. Also, true patriots who think that their country is always in the right shouldn't read this book. Some of it has to do with whether war is ever right. It points out that the soldiers on the other side are just as real as we are. They think that their view is more right than ours and they are also willing to die for it.
Later on in the hospital, when Figgis returns to himself for a few brief moments, he says to Tom that maybe his position is to make up for all the people out there who don't give a damn about who's going to die, and who is going to be wounded. Maybe Figgis' terrible state is because no one in his family except Tom really cares about the other side of the war. His father just wants to see as many dead men from the other side as he can. Tom's mother is sympathetic, but perhaps not enough. Maybe Figgis must suffer because NO ONE except those actually fighting wars seems to care about them. I have to admit that I didn't even know what the Gulf War was until I read this book.
Gulf is an amazing title because it's not only about the Gulf War, it's about the Gulf between us and everyone dying out there, it's about the Gulf between happy if not normal kids and kids who are soldiers. It's also about the Gulf between the real Figgis and the soldier he becomes.
This book might change your life. But if you're stuck in your own point of view and you can't handle all the horrible, maybe even possible things that happen to Figgis, don't read this book. Everyone else, give this amazing, thought-provoking, life-changing, better-than-any-book-I've-ever-read-and-that's-saying-something-because-I-read-EVERYTHING book a chance.