Friday, 8 October 2010

Review: Guantanamo Boy

Dear Blog,

Summary (from Goodreads): For Khalid, the war on terror  just got personal.
Fifteen-year-old Khalid likes seeing his friends, playing football down the park, the normal things. He isn't too excited about going to visit his family in Pakistan, but his mum and dad want him to come with them. So he goes.   And a living nightmare begins.
Khalid is kidnapped and forced to go to a place no teenager should ever see. A place where torture and terror are the normal things. Somewhere he doesn't know if he will ever escape from.
A place called Guantanamo Bay.

Review: I first saw this on my friends' bookshelf a few years ago.  I saw the cover and the title and I was like, OMG where did you get this book I must read it now.    And  then I found a copy in a library and, naturally, borrowed it.   

Well, where can I start?  Guantanamo Boy is the most difficult, disturbing book I've read in a long time.  Yet I read it in a morbidly fascinated sort of way to find out what was going to happen next- the sort of book where you both want to throw it out the window and go and watch a cheerful Disney movie instead, and both read on in the hope that something good might happen.  I won't give much of the plot away, because you'll have to read it and see for yourself. 

You can't not like Khalid, the protagonist of the book.  Because it's just so wrong that at aged fifteen he should be accused of terrorism and have to be subject to such torture- things like being tied to a board and then tipped backwards into a tub of water until he confessed to crimes he didn't commit, and being chained to the floor and having his eardrums practically burst and such.  It's kind of hard to describe such scenes- on one hand it was too terrible to be happening to an ordinary teenager, to anybody, but on the other I guess it could have been  a lot more graphic (I'm glad it wasn't).

I suppose in that case, then,  it's very emotionally draining.  So much of the book is focused on Khalid's thoughts and emotions.  Which makes sense for two reasons: 1) in the 2 years he is in Guantanamo, a lot of it was pretty uneventful, and 2) that makes him a much more believable character who you can really feel for, whose thoughts you can really see into.  I think that was the most affecting thing about the book.

The ending was...strange.  It felt very surreal, perhaps because the reader gets as used to the bleak solitariness (real word?  I guess not) of Guantanamo as Khalid does.  The conclusion seemed kind of rushed and "oh, that's it?"  It seems kind of hard to accept that after everything he's been through, the book ends at that stage, with everything (seemingly) wrapped up nicely.  It's supposed to be satisfying, I think, but the rest of the book was so difficult to read, it seemed a little irritating.

At first the writing style seemed to get on my nerves- it was so simplistic, with little description.  And when there is it's very basic indeed,  I guess to convey the stark nature of the book (which I think the cover sums up perfectly).  Also, Khalid is no poet but your average teenage boy, so the writing style, however basic it may be,  makes sense I suppose. 

This is one of those books that absolutely everyone should read regardless of age and background.  Whether you're a teenage boy or a 40-year-old politician then it will no doubt at least make you think.  It will certainly change your attitudes to terrorism. In that respect it's a very thought-provoking book without being overly preachy and "death to America."  Which was pleasing.

In three words: unforgettable, disturbing, heartbreaking.
Recommended for: everyone. 
Rating: 5.

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