October 28, 2005
'Harbor' - Lorraine Adams
'Water never warms in American harbors'
This opening line in Lorraine Adams's first novel 'Harbor' captures the essence of the story; that of an illegal Algerian immigrant trying to make America his safe harbor after fleeing the harsh reality of a civil war that is consuming his native country.
Aziz, a soft spoken, educated, and honest human being rides through a series of horror coasters while trying to lose himself in the Boston suburbia trying to evade the FBI. He and his relatively harmless compatriots are constantly hounded by the fear of getting captured. It is within this terrifyingly opaque and stifling environment that Aziz finds himself longing for "a person speaking to him, and ..someone's eyes meeting his own".
Adams empathetic portrayal of an illegal Islamic immigrant community trying to eek out an existence in a foreign land under the threat of underinformed, narrow minded, and prejudiced Intelligence and Surveillance Forces, is a very thought provoking novel. Though the setting of the story is pre 9/11, the profiling and the discrimination that is meted out to this small community of Algerians is reminiscent of the post 9/11 scenario.
Yet, the novel is not about terrorists or terrorism. This starkly naked tale of ordinary human beings, uprooted from their native land and in desperation trying to make this new land their home, is both terrifying and heart rending. It forces any rational minded individual to reflect on his prejudices; especially those pertaining to religion. Does a person's religion make him less human or less deserving of human kindness? Will our religious differences prevent us from communicating with each other as human beings? Will our religious affiliations divide us irrevocably such that there will be no bridges left that would let the milk of human kindness to flow? Will humanitarianism in this country be forever drowned in a deluge of post 9/11 suspicion and hatred?
Finally, can Aziz's story have a different middle and end?