Alex Gilvarry’s From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant

1328742337529Glenn Greenwald regularly does us a service by not only reminding us of the ongoing assault on civil liberties and human dignity in the Obama-directed war on terror but also pointing out the hypocisy of liberals and progressives in their support of the policy. Perhaps literature can move us more than reportage. Jacob Silverman on Alex Gilvarry's novel about Guantanamo, in The Daily Beast:

Novelists like to congratulate themselves for their research; time spent in Google’s far-flung quadrants is worn as a badge of authenticity. But some novels leave more to invention than others, often by necessity. Alex Gilvarry’s strange hybrid of a book is one.

“They don’t know allow novelists in Guantánamo Bay,” Gilvarry said, provoking laughter from the capacity crowd attending his book-release party last month at The Strand’s rare-books room.

Gilvarry, who is 30 and a few inches past six feet, is the author of From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant. His debut novel tells the story of Boyet (“Boy”) Hernandez, a five-foot-one-inch Filipino immigrant who, after attaining an evanescent fame as a fashion designer in New York, is shipped off to Guantánamo Bay for his alleged connection to terrorists. The book is, unsurprisingly, a satire—no other genre could encompass two such divergent topics.

Combatant’s peculiar 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. “I did as much research on fashion as I did on Guantánamo, which is ridiculous,” he said.

Indeed, while Boy’s tale runneth over with references to Diane von Furstenberg and Oscar de La Renta (whose “immigrant narratives” the fashion aspirant devoured while growing up in the Philippines), it’s equally replete with touchstones from the war on terrorism and the post-9/11 security state. A publicist named Ben Laden (no relation) is detained by airport police “because of ‘homophonic similarities,’ ” causing him to miss a runway show. The copy of the Quran that Boy receives in “No Man’s Land”—his word for Gitmo—was previously owned by David Hicks, an Australian detainee who was released to his home country in April 2007.

Other references come from forgotten annals of pop culture—there’s a Lou Diamond Phillips sighting—or appear as coded versions of familiar American archetypes. There’s a self-aggrandizing pop star named Chloë, whose music promotes a kind of aggressively sultry chastity (her album is called Blueballer). We encounter familiar political iconography, as when Sheriff Michaels—a Shepard Fairey-like artist—superimposes a leaked photo of the imprisoned Boy with “damp shades of red, white, and blue” and stamps the word “BEHAVE at the foot of the image.” The poster becomes a sensation, emblematizing Boy’s plight.

It’s this facility with pop culture and with deconstructing its avatars that adds a layer of piquancy to Gilvarry’s satire.