Tuesday, January 24, 2012

From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant by Alex Gilvarry

Title: From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant
Author: Alex Gilvarry

Genre: Fiction (Satire / Post-9/11 / New York City / Fashion / Immigrant Experience / War on Terror)
Publisher/Publication Date: Viking Adult (1/5/2012)
Source: The publisher

Rating: Liked a great deal!
Did I finish?: Raced through it, howling!
One-sentence summary: Filipino fashion designer, Boyet Hernandez, finds himself embroiled in the War on Terror and imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay after he accepts funding for his fashion line from the wrong man.

Do I like the cover?: I do -- it fits the feel of the novel -- playful and pointed in equal parts.

I'm reminded of...: Gary Shteyngart

First line: I would not, could not, nor did I ever raise a hand in anger against America.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- this is edgy, ludicrous, pointed, and funny!

Why did I get this book?: I haven't read a great deal of post-9/11 fiction and the absurd premise really attracted me.

Review: You're never going to believe what I'm about to tell you: this is a hysterical novel that combines fashion and politics. And it works!

Filipino fashion designer Boyet Hernandez moves to New York City in hopes of achieving his dream -- a haute couture fashion line -- and gets funding (reluctantly) from his blowhard neighbor Ahmed Qureshi. Boy is preoccupied with creating his line and getting his name out in the fashion world by doing styling, and he's happy to tune out Ahmed's bizarre behavior and exaggerations. But it's his association with Ahmed that leads to his imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay, accused of being part of a terrorist cell.

The novel is Boy's confession, written while he's imprisoned at Gitmo. An argument to his captors of his innocence, Boy explains how he became embroiled with Ahmed but his story is filled with sidelong explanations of fashion, his romances, and his relationship with his guards at Gitmo. The narrative is annotated by a fashion writer, Gil Johannessen, who covered Boy's rise and fall in the New York scene.

Gilvarry's writing is playful, flamboyant, pointed, wry, and sharp. Funny, but also discomforting. I've read a few reviews that criticize the flimsy female characters -- which normally would be a complaint of mine -- but in this case, the story is told from Boy's viewpoint, and it doesn't bother me that he can't quite put his finger on the women in his life. He's more preoccupied with his own trials and tribulations (and this is before he ends up at Gitmo).

The novel is funny, absurdly at times, but the ending is...bitter(sweet?) in a way, that made the story poignant and painful. I finished this book unwilling to pick up another, wanting to linger with Boy's story and Gilvarry's fabulous writing. I can't wait for his future works -- this debut is a silly, uncomfortable read. Recommended!

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to be able to offer a copy of From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant to one lucky reader thanks to the publisher! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 2/17.


  1. Your enthusiasm for this one jumps off the page :) I have to admit that just reading a synopsis of this story line would have me shaking my head, but your favorable comments have me thinking maybe I need to consider this one. Great review today :) (And I hope the shark theme birthday party was a success!).

  2. @TheBookGirl: I know, weird premise, but so worthwhile -- fascinating and amusing and sad! Definitely consider it -- the writing is so good, I was hooked from the start. The shark party was a huge success, thank you! My wife was delighted, which is all I wanted!

  3. This one sounds interesting and inventive! I'm glad you enjoyed it so much!

  4. Sounds zany and wonderful. A book I doubt I would have found on my own. Great review and thanks for the rec!

  5. This sounds so funny and the main character sounds really likeable. I passed this up for review and am totally regretting it!! (actually I think it's more like I wasn't sure and then I forgot about it). I'll have to check this out sometime!!

  6. I was all worried at first that this would be a serious book about diverse cultures and September 11th, but I am all for general hilarity with a dash of the other stuff.

  7. This sounds great! And I love the cover! I would have never thought to read it though without this review!

  8. Wow, it sounds completely different than what I was expecting. I've got it waiting for me, I'm going to try and pick it up soon. You haven't steered me wrong yet.

  9. @All: apologies for not responding individually -- the threaded comments aren't working for me and I'm not feeling super great and don't have the patience to mess with it any longer. Anyway...

    This book is totally fun, really worth a try. It's got some heft, but in the background, between the lines, and if it's in your face, Gilvarry does so in a hilarious manner. (Boy might be a favorite useless hero.) Many, many times I snorted aloud -- Gilvarry's writing is great.

  10. I've had a string of odd premise books lately and this seems like a perfect fit. I'm not sure I'd love it, but it's definitely interesting and new! The Gitmo aspect is also quite interesting - into the "to read" shelf it goes!

  11. This sounds like my kind of book. Thanks for the review. I have read some post-9/11 books, but mostly from a Muslim point of view and not bordering on the absurd.

  12. Oh, this sounds so good! I love funny books that makes you think, and I love absurd comedy a whole lot, so this one is going right to the top of my list. I loves your enthusiasm and the enticement of this review! Thanks!

  13. You make this one sound so good - so much fun but with substance. I'm adding this one to my list!

  14. This book sounds terrific! I love the crazy, funny premise and, after what I have read about the fashion industry, the funding situation for Boy's line makes sense to me. And I also think that flimsy female characters make sense in the context of Boy's life and the confession he's writing. I'm intrigued about the ending, too.

    Your enthusiasm for this book is evident in your wonderful review and you've hooked me on this book!

  15. It's a very strange premise, but the fact that you're so enthusiastic about the book makes me want to read it. Thanks for the giveaway!