Guantanamo: A Novel by Dorothea Dieckmann

Guantanomo Dorothy Dieckman Soft Skull PressI wrote this review trying to follow what I thought was a new format for The Stranger‘s book section. Three months and no word, so here it is: In Dorothy Dieckman’s novel (translated by Tim Mohr and published by Richard Nash), Rashid, a German tourist of Indian decent, using a Lonely Planet Guide to look for an adventure in the postwar zone of Afghanistan, finds himself rounded up by American soldiers under murky circumstances. The normally lucid handles of nationality and religion dissolve as Rashid finds himself bagged, tagged an enemy, and carted to a small cage stowed in rows alongside other cages filled with men with similar varied and confusing stories. Everyone imprisoned has been reduced to an enemy combatant. In turn, the male and female American soldiers who watch over them are also reduced to the role of interrogator.

Like Beckett’s Malone, this novel spends pages dwelling on the mesmerizing physical minutiae of the protagonist. He is a bundle of frayed nerves trying to cling to consciousness in a situation where any sense of context has been removed by senseless forces. In Beckett, this might be an existential crises, in Guantanomo this is Dick Cheney’s war without end. Rashid watches sunlight. A gecko takes up residence behind a plywood panel. The gecko, too, is in prison, and the protagonist’s imprisonment makes just as much sense. Increasingly, national boundaries only make sense for the larger multi-national structures like the World Bank. For citizens of the world, whether they are workers being detained in the United States for lacking the applicable administrative paperwork or they are tourists traveling for dubious reasons in Afghanistan it makes as much sense to imprison these people as it does to lock up geckos, spiders, and moths. This excellent short novel directly confronts the confusion of citizenship and identity in the context of Globalism where terrorism, war, or even Lonely Planet Guide tourism are not constrained by national boundaries.

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