Dorothea Dieckmann's short novel, Guantanamo, easily makes, if not tops, my list of best books published 2007. In fact, I'm going to pull out some tDorothea Dieckmann's short novel, Guantanamo, easily makes, if not tops, my list of best books published 2007. In fact, I'm going to pull out some tired old war horses here: It grabs you from the first page. It is masterfully written. It is a "must read." Most important, it is important.[return][return]Guantanamo does what excellent fiction should do -- transport us to places we can't go. Here, that place is inside the mind of a prisoner at the U.S. military's detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Rashid is a 20-year old nonpracticing Muslim born and raised in Germany. He is half Indian and half German. He travels to Dehli to meet his grandmother and eventually befriends a young Afghan who takes him to Pakistan. Rashid gets caught up in the midst of an anti-American demonstration, is arrested and ends up at Gitmo.[return][return]Those are the "facts" (or are they?) of how Rashid ended up being a prisoner of the U.S. military. While the facts (or Rashid's memory) may occasionally blur, Dieckmann's exploration of the mind is as clear and expressive as you can find. Guantanamo, first published in Germany in 2004 and translated by Tim Mohr for last year's U.S. edition, takes us inside Rashid's thoughts, memories and emotions. The physical effects of his arrest, treatment, imprisonment and interrogations are certainly part and parcel of this -- and described in haunting detail. But this is as much an investigation of the psyche, one that is equally as haunting. Dieckmann's concise yet eloquent prose takes us on a harrowing journey that at times borders on a fever dream. She relies on public descriptions of the base and conditions there for the story's framework but, as she notes, "As regards the inner details, only imagination can provide those[.]"[return][return]Balance of review at here....more
About a third of the way through this book, I was still thinking: I just don't get it. What I didn't get is the praise for the book and the fact it woAbout a third of the way through this book, I was still thinking: I just don't get it. What I didn't get is the praise for the book and the fact it won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. I must still admit that I sometimes think I just don't get "literature." But the last half of this book demonstrates why it was so favorably viewed as Marilynne Robinson cultivates a literary garden she spent much time preparing.
Gilead is purported to be a lengthy letter/diary written in 1956 by an elderly minister (late 70s) with a failing heart to a son nearly 70 years his junior. The writing is intended to be read by the son once he has grown into manhood to perhaps understand the father who was not there to watch over that growth. To a great extent, though, as the narrator says, "what you must see here is just an old man struggling with the difficulty of understanding what it is he's struggling with." At bottom, what he's struggling with is what almost any of us would struggle with as we ponder the end of our lives -- how we've lived our life and how we got to where we are today.
Along the way, you not only get the minister's meditations on spirituality and existence (passages showing serious reflection by Robinson) but a view of four generations of life in Gilead, Iowa. Gilead is a prairie town "within striking distance of Kansas" where the minister has lived virtually all of his life. Given its location, it has a history of abolitionism that helps set the stage for ruminations on the relationships between fathers and sons.
It is somewhat surprising that a novel written by a woman would focus on father-son dynamics. That was, from my perspective, a minor failing of the book. Perhaps it is my imagination, but at times there was a feel to the writing that made it seem more feminine than the thoughts of a contemplative man. But Robinson manages to use male-to-male relationships to essentially take us on the minister's journey of self-discovery and perhaps even redemption.