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From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant: A Novel Hardcover – January 5, 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


***A New York Times Editors' Choice Pick***

“Delicious . . . A left-handed love letter to America.” —Daniel Asa Rose, The New York Times Book Review

“Lively . . . Hilarious . . . [A] whirligig of a book [that] draws some striking parallels between the way we mythologize stars and the way we look at terrorists. . . . From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant slices through these tropes, using Boy’s pure improbability as the skewering blade.” —John Freeman, Boston Globe

“In this funny debut, flashy Filipino fashion designer Boy Hernandez sees his American dream become a nightmare when he’s ensnared in a terrorist plot and shipped to Guantanamo. Gilvarry nails the couture scene, but Boy’s rough journey from Manolo to Gitmo is no joke.” —Andrew Abrahams, People

“It’s rare for a novel to tread so fearlessly into the political and yet to emerge so deeply funny and humane. Gilvarry is a young talent on the rise. Watch him gallop through the mess we’ve made of our civilization with style and panache.” —Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story and Absurdistan

“The deepest intelligence is poetic, incisive and inordinately funny. Heads up, folks. Alex Gilvarry just walked through the door.” —Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin and Zoli

“Like 30 Rock at its most gleefully savage . . . [This] cocktail of themes—immigrant on the make, post-9/11 burlesque, sybaritic send-up of fashion and hipster Brooklyn—goes down smoothly because Gilvarry writes with authority, if often with tongue firmly in cheek . . . It’s not false praise to say that From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant anticipates our reality.” —Jacob Silverman, The Daily Beast

“From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant is sharply written and wryly witty, touching on the sensitivities and paranoia of post-9/11 America. . . . Combining a Kafkaesque hero with a captivating “coming to New York” story, Gilvarry’s debut is a timely and touching triumph.” Stephanie Turza, Booklist

“One of the best celebrations and condemnations of American fear and ambition since Bellow's Augie March was doing the celebrating and condemning.” —Brock Clarke, author of Exley and An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England

“Gracefully tackles politically charged subject matter . . . with wit and compassion . . . An engaging victim of uncertain times, [here’s] a protagonist who will appeal to readers of all political persuasions.” —Publishers Weekly

“This is a sly, witty novel. You'll be quoting lines from it to your friends.” —David Bezmozgis, author of The Free World

“Finally, a young American novelist who has the guts to confront the absurdity of the last decade. Gilvarry has given us a sly, hilarious, and wickedly insightful book about living in the United States (or trying to live in the U.S.) in the aftermath of September 11th. Fashion, terrorism, New York and Guantanamo Bay: in the hands of Gilvarry, hilarity ensues. A brilliant debut.” —Michael Hastings, author of “The Runaway General” (Rolling Stone) and The Operators

“Original, smart, and incisive . . . Part manifesto, part immigrant love story, part satire, part tragedy . . . [and] eminently readable.” —Roxane Gay, The Rumpus

“A smart, funny novel with political undertones that will also be particularly enjoyable for those with an interest in fashion . . . [Gilvarry’s] style and dark humor are subtle and witty . . . The events that unfold are equally disturbing and entertaining.” —Shaunna E. Hunter, Library Journal

“A talented writer and observer . . . [Gilvarry] skillfully captures the frenetic world of striving designers.” —Kirkus

 “Captivating . . . evocative.” —Vogue.com

“Such a blast… Quick, witty and hilarious.” —Meredith Turits, Glamour.com

 “Deadly serious, laugh-out-loud funny…A sparkling onion of a book.” —Carlo Wolff, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 “A unique satire of the topsy-turvy times immediately following the September 11th attacks . . . . which cleverly entwines the seemingly disparate fictional worlds [of] politics and fashion.” —The Economist’s Prospero blog

“A fabulous and poignant read….Gilvarry’s prose is both conversational and confessional, hitting all the right notes in this bittersweet rendering of the American Dream gone tragically awry.” —Nicole, Linus's Blanket

“Alternately amusing and chilling. The author showcases his gift for comedic writing, while simultaneously allowing the serious themes of the story to surface and take root.” —Rege Behe, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

“A poignant reminder of what contemporary fiction ought to be. You will laugh, but you’ll do so nervously, sitting at the edge of your seat.” —Ana Grouverman, The Rumpus

About the Author

A native of Staten Island, Alex Gilvarry has traveled extensively in the Philippines, where his family is from. He's the editor of the Web site Tottenville Review, he has been named a Norman Mailer Fellow, and his writing has appeared in The Paris Review. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; First Edition edition (January 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670023191
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670023196
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.9 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #459,351 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Alex Gilvarry has written an absolutely brilliant and entertaining novel. The premise is so outlandish - he combines a humorous satirical look at the fashion industry with eye-opening insights into the way "detainees" are treated at Guantanamo Prison. It doesn't seem possible that these two storylines could be joined together in an interesting and compelling way, but Gilvarry does it. The book is written as the confession of Boy Hernandez, a Filipino immigrant with dreams of becoming a world famous designer. For most of the book, we learn of Boy's journey from a Manila fashion school, where he was the second best student to a rival who hit the big time fast, to the streets of New York, where he arrives nearly penniless but dreams of the day when he'll be able to showcase his own designs during Fashion Week at Bryant Park. When he stumbles upon a neighbor who offers to bankroll his ambitions, he willfully keeps a blind eye to that man's shady business dealings. When his new partner, Ahmed, turns out to be an arms dealer, Boy, gets caught up in the post 911 paranoia and ends up in Guantanamo and has to write this confession to try to prove his innocence. Gilvarry's portrayal of a designer's mind - the way he looks at clothes, the way he brainstorms new ideas, and all the connections he has to leverage to make inroads into the business are fascinatingly portrayed. You learn a lot about how clothing designers think and develop their ideas. And Boy's voice is so wonderfully unique. He has a humorously fragile ego - with all of his petty jealousies with his rivals are right at the forefront - but then he turns into a powerful voice of innocent victims as he describes the brutal and unforgiving ways that prisoners are treated by the government when fear provides them with the justifications to ignore the guidelines for humane treatment set forth by the Constitution and Geneva Convention. This book is so unique and so entertaining, I highly recommend it.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It was a great book overall. Given it's satirical intent, it speaks to a lot of social constructs we face today, and the storyline is overarched by the War of Terror. It's a fairly easy read, which is nice because it's probably the first book I've read since the last Harry Potter. The most difficult part reading this book is understanding certain military and government jargon; and historical references that relate to the story. These things add more context to the story when you fully understand what they mean. Probably the biggest theme I could point out is that Boy's life in America can be summed up as "Hindsight is 20/20"--meaning that our decisions, whether we make them or not, could have dire consequences that affect the rest of our lives. We won't know what the right decision was until it's too late.
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Format: Hardcover
Alex Gilvarry's debut novel, From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant has a great title and a great wacky premise. That said, I wouldn't describe this as a wacky novel at all. It's published as if the memoir of Boyet R. Hernandez, Filipino immigrant and would-be fashion designer. Boy comes to the U.S. dripping with talent and a passion for fashion. (And the ladies, BTW. Despite his slight frame and chosen occupation, he's as straight as they come, he informs the reader.)

The memoir follows Boy's fledgling career as he begins to gain traction in New York, but also as he recounts his suspicions about the pathological liar who is the primary investor in his clothing line. On the brink of breaking out, Boy's investor is arrested for a terrorist plot (He didn't suspect THAT!) and before he can say, "I love the USA," Boy is shipped off to Guantanamo. It is while imprisoned and interrogated there that the memoir was born.

As noted above, this is a premise ripe for satire. The first part of the novel, however, while slightly absurd, was mostly a surprisingly straight and engaging tale of a struggling fashion designer. I kept wondering, where's the biting political satire? I was disappointed.

What I hungered for came late in the novel (mostly in the memoir's afterword, written by one of the fictional characters), but when Gilvarry finally let loose with both barrels, he did so effectively and eloquently. The reader is left with a powerful message about justice, freedom, and their loss in post 9/11 America, ringing in his or her ears.

Score one for the debut novelist.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Grade: B+

L/C Ratio: 40/60
(This means I estimate the author devoted 40% of his effort to creating a literary work of art and 60% of his effort to creating a commercial bestseller.)

Thematic Breakdown:
30% - Life of a detainee
25% - NYC fashion industry
20% - Humor
20% - Relationships
5% - Politics

I don't typically consider suspected terrorists to be a source of comedy. Then again, nothing about Gilvarry's debut novel is very typical - and that's what makes it so refreshing. The flashback approach is well-crafted, while his characters and their dialogue creep up to the edge of over-the-top ridiculousness without crossing the line.

Knowing a chunk of the plot revolved around the fashion industry (a sector I am totally oblivious to) made me think twice about picking up Non-Enemy Combatant. But given that Zoolander is my favorite film of all time, it seemed wrong to pass on this novel. Despite the relatively lackluster closing chapters, Gilvarry's debut stands out as a bright spot in a pretty dull year for fiction so far.

Noteworthy Quote:
I traced her ivory legs from her hemline to her flats, where an out‑of‑place L.L. Bean backpack with the initials T.W.M. rested against her ankle. I would find out later that the initials belonged to one Todd Wayne Mercer, an ex‑boyfriend. He took her virginity; she took his backpack. Fair is fair.
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