According to her official website bio, Lorraine Adams left her Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper career in 2000 “to recount the lost stories of Algerians she knew without the strictures of journalism, and the conventional sentiment of the moment.” Even before 9/11, Adams well understood about “ambiguity” and terrorism.
Journalism’s loss proved to be literary gain: Adams’ award-winning 2004 debut novel is stunning, sly, devastating, and not a little condemning of the forces supposedly engaged to keep America safe. Adams’ superb investigative skills clearly come in handy, as she unravels a nuanced story of two brothers from Algeria and their uncertain American lives.
Aziz rises from the waters of Boston Harbor more dead than alive, his body festering from 52 days trapped in the hold of a tanker. Barely human when he reaches land, only the initial kindness of strangers saves him until he can join his childhood friends, fellow illegal aliens sharing a crowded makeshift existence.
Aziz’s younger brother’s American entry bears no resemblance: “Mourad had a green card. He had checked luggage. He had a one-way ticket on Air France. His aisle seat was next to an empty window seat for the entire eight-hour flight. He had slept comfortably with three pillows and two blankets.” In spite of his near-effortless immigration, Aziz instantly knows Mourad “‘does not want to be here.’”
Seemingly quiet and detached, Aziz is a young man of many secrets. Amidst a cast of dubious companions with more bravado than brains, more testosterone than caution, Aziz is a wondrous character who seems to be both sage and desperado. As his story is revealed, layer by layer, you will gasp at the final realization of why he can never rest.
“Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” the Statue of Liberty beckons from another harbor. But this post-9/11 America, as Adams deftly shows, is a complicated maze in which anyone can get lost, anyone can be hunted, and anyone can disappear. Follow Aziz on his dazzling journey and bear witness to his bewildering, elusive search for freedom.