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Harbor Paperback – September 13, 2005

3.7 out of 5 stars 50 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 291 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (September 13, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400076889
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400076888
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,191,395 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A riveting, thought-provoking book. Beautifully written, with excellent development of numerous characters. I was perversely sad to "leave" the bleak world of these immigrants when the novel was over.

My only comment to those who haven't read it is that the book requires VERY close reading to get the most out of it. 2/3 of the way through, when I was eager to charge through to the climax, I realized that I was confusing some of the characters and/or had not retained necessary information about them. Some, but not all,of this is attributable to the fact that most of the characters had unfamiliar names. At one point, I was as confused as the FBI agents as to who was who --- Rafik, Ghazi, Kamal, etc. I went back and carefully re-read the first 2/3 and it was well worth it. I do have to say that the chapter where Aziz first joins the rebels in the army camp is extraordinarily difficult to follow, and could have been edited better for comprehension. I read it about 5 times very rigorously, trying to follow what was going on, and it remains very confusing.

An extremely enjoyable novel that rewards the unusual effort that it demands from the reader.
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Format: Hardcover
There's no question that we need a novel like Lorraine Adams' HARBOR, an attempt to recount the experiences of a group of Middle Eastern immigrants in America pre-9/11. I admired much of the writing in this book, but I thought Adams' inability to bring life to her protagonist at certain key points prevented this book from fully working for me.

Some of the strongest scenes are early on, where Aziz (an ex-soldier from Algeria) jumps off a ship and swims into Boston Harbor. Of course, Aziz doesn't know the language and isn't in good health, and Adams does a wonderful job conveying his sensory disassociation from the world around him. Aziz never really loses that disassociation though, it's as if he spends much of the novel with earplugs on. Even when he's reunited with friends and later his brother, and begins to suss out what he thinks may be a terrorist plot, Aziz seems remarkably casual about what's happening. We also get flashbacks to Aziz's life in Algeria, where he - mistaken for another man - falls in with a band of mercenaries before escaping....again, Aziz seems carried along by events. Anyone not familar with Algerian politics will have a hard time figuring out some of these scenes.

I thought the end of the book was the weakest, as point-of-view ping pongs between several characters, including the FBI, and characters from early in the book are suddenly reintroduced.

Still, I think HARBOR is a very promising debut, and I hope Adams continues to tackle subjects of such relevance.
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Format: Hardcover
It looks like I'm unusual in not being enthusiastically positive about this book. There is much to like about it: I felt that Lorraine Adams presented a sympathetic portrait of recent Arab immigrants to the U.S. and the difficulty they can have in adjusting to our culture. This is a much-needed book because of the huge divisions we have in the U.S. among Arabs, Jews, and Christians. I was really looking forward to reading it, and that's why I was disappointed.

Perhaps it's my ignorance of Algerian history and events, or maybe it's my preference for more details...but many of the scenes (particularly the flashbacks to Algeria, and the bar scenes in the U.S.) were hard to follow. I found myself scanning over paragraphs to get the general gist of the story, until I could get back to the more interesting parts. Reading over the many reviews of this book, very few reviewers mention this fault...although one called some of the text "unwieldy."

Incidents in the past are alluded to, for example, hashish dealings and one character's shady experiences in Paris and Morocco, but the story is not ever adequately told.

The intelligence services are depicted as clueless and apt to jump to conclusions without proving their theories. I hope to God that intelligent services are really not as inept as they are portrayed in this book!

The first part of the book was fascinating, and I was immediately drawn into Aziz's adventures. But the author eventually lost me as a committed reader. I did finish the book, but mostly because I was away for the weekend and didn't have other books to read. Otherwise I probably would have put it down.

I am disappointed, because I really wanted to like this book. I wanted more detail and a more thorough narrative of what was going on.
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Format: Hardcover
As a first book, this is an impressive start. Few mysteries that I've read have been able to keep up with the changes going on in the world. With peace broken out between the U.S.S.R. and the rest of the world, you cannot use the KGB as the enemy any more. Here is a mystery, set in the United States but with the main character an illegal alien. Bewildered by the culture, a language he cannot speak, a world willing to take advantage of him and to use him for their own purposes.

And life is going at least OK when the F.B.I. starts to get involved with suspicions of terrorism both his and our assumptions about what is going on suddenly get much more complex. This is especially true as we realize that this is the time leading up to the 9/11 attacks. I find myself wondering just how Ms. Adams was able to develop such an interesting and complete character from a culture (Algerian) so different than ours. I think we have a new major player in the fiction scene.
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