Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lorraine Adams has crafted a debut novel worthy of any seasoned novelist's pen. Harbor
is as current as the headlines, chronicling the desperate, confused, marginal lives of a group of Arab Muslims in Boston, Montreal, and Brooklyn. Aziz Arkoun arrives in Boston Harbor after 52 days as a stowaway in the hold of a tanker. He swims to shore through icy waters, arriving ill and disoriented. His experience is comparable to that of the Guatemalan immigrants in "El Norte": what he finds when he arrives is only slightly better than what he left, but at least he is not in immediate danger of being killed. Adams does a masterful job of rendering Aziz's confusion as he confronts a strange language in an almost unknowable world, tries to suss out what illegal goings-on his cousin is up to, sleeps in a chair a few hours a night, and works in a low-paying job for a brutish boss.
Threaded through the ongoing narrative is the backstory of what Aziz escaped: forced military service in the Algerian army, a chance role as a double agent which almost gets him killed and causes him to desert, and the ordinary, everyday horror of a bloody ground war. After deserting the army, he goes home, only to have his double agency discovered, which puts him on the run again, this time to Boston Harbor. At 24, he is a veteran in every sense of the word. Somehow, he retains an insouciance and innocence through it all. Not so his roommates.
Adams raises the question: "Who is a terrorist?" What makes this book irresistible is that there is no easy answer. Is it the one reading ancient Persian poems or the Qu'uran, or the one stealing Batman toys to resell at a profit? What we are stuck with is what an FBI agent says: "...we don't have to know them. We can't, ever. We can just piece together something here with something there and draw logical conclusions. It's flawed, of course it's flawed. But it's better than the alternative." --ValerieRyan
From Publishers Weekly
The uncertain lives of illegal Algerian immigrants are the subject of this compelling, topical debut novel. Adams, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, brings a reporter's eye for detail to the story, which begins with Aziz Arkoun's arrival in Boston Harbor. After 52 days as a stowaway in a tanker's hold—his third attempt to escape his country—Aziz swims to shore. Adams reveals and conceals just enough to keep readers almost as disoriented as Aziz, who, with no English and ruined health, survives almost by chance. But Aziz has fled Algeria, where he was an accidental double agent for Islamist militants, for another kind of brutish existence: intermittent minimum-wage employment, shady compatriots and FBI scrutiny. Straying from his modus operandi of inconspicuous survival, he and his friend Ghazi investigate the mysterious storage unit of their roommate Rafik. Is Rafik moving stolen designer clothes, hash or explosive chemicals? Their fingerprints implicate them in Rafik's racket; Aziz flees to Brooklyn, and Ghazi runs to Montreal, where he's seduced by a life of crime and perhaps by the "Allah-talk" of a childhood acquaintance who aspires to be a node in an international terrorist network. Aziz is no "prayer-boy," but for the FBI there are too few degrees of separation between him and a terrorist cell. Adams's lucid, psychologically complicated page-turner captures the ambiguities of and raises important questions about the domestic war on terror.
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