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Harbor Paperback – September 13, 2005
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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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
As the editorial cover blurb and other reviewers suggest, the primary question Adams raises is, "Who is a terrorist?" Is Aziz a terrorist because he killed in order to survive when he lived in Algieria, one of the most politically unstable places on Earth? After all, given opportunity, he might have grown old taking leadership of his father's hotel, smiling happily to tourists who come to him to enjoy nothing more than a good meal and a sunny beach. He might have married the woman he wanted to love, and raised contented children with her, if he hadn't seen her killed first. Even in America, what does it mean when a group of Muslim men draw circles on a subway map? Are they plotting an attack, or seeking coffee-sale locations protected from Boston's winter weather?
And, what about Aziz's companions, particularly those featured in the story's current Boston setting? Stowaways who swim ashore in Boston's frigid harbor may escape the mayhem of Algeria and similar places, but they won't be allowed to earn legal incomes in the US without documentation. So how do we judge them if they sell a few plastic Batman action figures or Versace suits, origin unknown?
Adams perhaps did a good job of showing how ordinary, or almost ordinary, people can find themselves engaged in immoral behavior. She made it possible to suspend judgment long enough to get to know her characters. However, I ultimately didn't sympathize with them as completely as I might have. This failure was perhaps pushed along by how very tired I got of reading one penis comment after another. Halfway through the book, I found myself flipping to the front cover to confirm the author has a female name, and wondering if it's a pseudonym or if a female author really felt the need to write such crude prose. Maybe such comments are an accurate description of the words and thoughts of Algierian immigrants. If so, I might find sympathy for their plight from a distance, but no particular joy in their company. I plain got tired of all the penis comments!
So, three stars from me; I do like including Algierians in the current fashion of writing about Muslim people in the United States and elsewhere, as their culture's quite different from those of the Middle East and stretching into India. I do like exploring the ways in which we as a society decide whom to arrest on charges of terrorism, whom to fear, whom to welcome, whom to pity. Unfortunately, Adams' graphic unloving sex, far-too-graphic violence, and all those penis remarks actually got in the way of what could have been a very compelling story.
There are many characters in this book and an insight into many different lives and reasons and I felt this was done very well by the author. I did really enjoy (if you can call reading about someone's suffering and plight enjoyable)this book and it really was an experience and an insight into the lives of those people seeking refuge and asylum. This was an engaging read and one that had me hooked.
I did struggle with one particular scene and chapter that really threw me and made me feel extremely uncomfortable, to the point I had to keep forcing the graphic images from my mind for days to come. What made those images even worse was knowing that the author, a journalist, had probably based theses events on real life atrocities against innocent women and children. I can't begin to imagine living my life in fear of this level of violence. I would have been naive not to expect death and torture, I was expecting it, but in honesty I did feel some impacted on me to the point I feared reading on and knowing more. Actually the remainder wasn't quite so graphic or gruesome.
The story is told very well, I love the style of writing and I'm really glad I found it.