“Meet Boyet Hernandez: Filipino Lothario. New York glamour junkie. Homeland Security patsy whose high-end fashion line has been brought low by a knock on the door in the middle of the night. Locked away indefinitely in America’s most notorious prison, Boy prepares for the tribunal of his life with this intimate confession, a dazzling swirl of soirees, runaways, and hipster romance that charts one small man’s pursuit of the big American dream–even as the present nightmare of detainment threatens his vital mojo.”
I attended the launch for this book by accident. Okay, so I didn’t exactly attend. I was at the venue, browsing for new books to read. And I thought, From The Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant sounded insane. Imagine: a straight male fashion designer accused of being a terrorist? Of course I had to have a copy. Granted, it did take me months before I actually got around to reading it. The point is, I read it. And I think it’s genius.
Reading the novel was slow-going at first. Admittedly, it took me a while to adjust to the storytelling. It wasn’t enough that it was in first person, and that we were being fed information in increments, it was also being unraveled on a per-article basis. I had to put the book down a number of times because it was driving me nuts.
And then I got past the third “article,” and then I got used to the storytelling, and then I devoured the whole book.
Without further ado, here’s my reading of From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant:
It is genius. Wait, I think I already said that. But it is. Alex Gilvarry married together two ideas that were so far apart in the spectrum of things and made it work. Fashion and terrorism, who knew it would work together so well? Well? Well, the Nazis did. Apparently.
But in the modern world? In a modern United States? Yeah, I can see how it can happen. And as Alex said in one of his interview, this book is the product of how he was seeing America after the events of 9-11. And what he saw was truly hair-raising. In a horrifying way, yes. But, also, because you can also empathize with the why.
Fear is a powerful agent in making people turn a blind eye to injustice. Fear bred by evil unknown. By evil that can look ordinary, or less-than-ordinary even. We turn a blind eye because we never know. We ask what if. In the book, one character talks about regrets. It’s better to live with a mistake than live with a regret.
And that’s the protagonist’s downfall. People are more willing to live with the mistake of serving a man injustice, than risk the small chance that the allegations are true: that this inconspicuous small man from the Philippines is an actual terrorist.
As Boy weaves his tales picked from memories, as a reader, you are taken for a ride to. Memories have a way of making us look better than we were at the time. And who is to say that the memoirs we are reading are as honest as they ought to be? Remembered past has a reputation of being inaccurate because we don’t really recall things the exact same way.
This gets addressed to by the character of Ahmed, the actual terrorist in the novel. He lies. But he sees his lies as truths, even though everyone can tell he’s lying. So it surprised when we find some of the things he says does turn out to be true!
I must say. For a book that I thought I wouldn’t finish, From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant now holds a special place in my heart. Beside Rafe Bartholomew’s Pacific Rims.