Between the journalist and his subject lies an unbridgeable chasm. Invisible in peacetime, in war the division becomes as clear as the desert horizon. Confronted even by tragedy or death, the witness must stay detached, or risk being consumed.

There is a war in Gunnar Kopperud's meditative novel Longing (Bloomsbury; 256 pages), and it takes place in the memories of his unnamed protagonists: a European reporter who's a veteran of the human-misery beat, and a conflicted North African freedom fighter. Lovers during her bloody war, peacetime erodes their relationship. She recovers a sense of normalcy, however fragile,...

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