Sunday, January 29, 2012

From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant by Alex Gilvarry

Agh, has it been a week since I finished this?  Am I already failing at my New Year's Resolution to not neglect my reviews for weeks or months?  I can't let it happen - not yet!

When Boyet "Boy" Hernandez moves to New York City from his native Phillippines, he's certain he's entered the land of opportunity. Boy, who has a passion and a talent for designing women's clothing, knows the only place to hit it big is in New York. His dreams are filled with Bryant Park's Fashion Week tents, and he's more than eager to get down to making a splash in the New York fashion scene. Unfortunately, it's not as easy as it looks. Finances exile Boy to Bushwick rather than the hipper Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, and Boy is left to labor on his line in obscurity until he makes the acquaintance of his sketchy downstairs neighbor. Ahmed Qureshi spends his time at home clad in a dishdasha and aqua shoes, but he's an important fabric importer who wants suits that will make a splash in society, and he thinks Boy is just the one to produce them. From then on, despite some reservations about Ahmed's character, the two are in business together. Little does Boy know that his naive willingness to adopt Ahmed as the chief investor for his women's fashion line will eventually land him in a world of trouble.
Gilvarry's novel takes place in the wildly paranoid post-9/11 world. With Guantanamo Bay slurping up would-be terrorists indiscriminately, and the Patriot Act making it easy and legal to monitor even the most innocent of conversation and correspondence, Gilvarry's entertaining satire featuring the hapless Boy is both ridiculous, yet not so far from the truth about the United States in the wake of the attacks. In Boy, Gilvarry has created a unique character that plays perfectly in his tale.  Boy, an adamantly straight women's fashion designer, is so single-minded in pursuit of his dreams that he's willing to believe with only fleeting doubts that the fast-talking Ahmed really just is a Canadian businessman with all the right connections.  
Boy, who thinks that a fertilizer bomb sounds like something made up, hardly blinks an eye at Ahmed's apartment filled to the brim with the stuff until he finds himself detained at Guantanamo Bay for his association with terroristic activities.  Ahmed is obviously trouble but then, he is also an enthusiastic, charismatic and most entertaining terrorist who drives around in a ZipCar (a Toyota Prius to be exact), makes paninis for lunch, and dishes about his home in Nova Scotia where the sun stays up for six months at a time and everyone comes out of their huts and igloos to watch it go down before their six months of night.  Ludicrous?  Maybe.  Hilariously incongruous?  Definitely.  Twisted though it may be, if I had to name my very favorite part of the book, it would most likely be Ahmed and his antics.
From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant (FtMoaNEC) is a smart, funny, and vaguely frightening picture of  the post-9/11 U.S. where an agent named Ben Laden, an apartment with a storage area turned bedroom called a "sleeper cell," and a liason with a guy who's making a deal with the ASPCA seem harmless enough but are enough to put an innocent away in Guantanamo Bay.  Admittedly, the book drags a little through the parts where Boy laments his unfortunate detention, and it seems as if Gilvarry is trying to add drama where no drama needs added, but the parts where Boy recounts what led him to this unfortunate turn of events really pop.  At the end of the day, though, FtMoaNEC evokes and harpoons the Big Brother-esque age of the Patriot Act so well that the very act of posting this review, chock full of buzz words like terrorist, Guantanamo Bay, and fertilizer; seems like an act of bravery.
(Thanks to the publisher for the review copy!) 

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