Saturday, May 28, 2011

GUANTANAMO BOY by Anna Perera

"Welcome to Guantanamo Bay Prison. You're now the property of the US Marine Corps. Heads down!"


"It's not often that Khalid can look at his life from a distance. But, instantly, he can see himself clearly for once. He's another meaningless bent orange shape dropped into some weird world game, the sun fixing him here on this lump of tarmac like a dart in his back. He's nothing but an orange heap for soldiers to toss around because they think he's a terrorist who wants to blow up cites. Think he hates the West, even though he lives there and doesn't know anything about weapons of mass destruction or bombs or buildings crashing to the ground in New York."

There’s nothing unusual about 15 year old Khalid. He’d much rather be playing a computer game than polishing his school shoes. He hasn’t got a clue how to flirt with girls, and there is no way he’s leaving England to visit his father’s boring family in Pakistan. Especially when his football team is so close to being promoted.

Unfortunately for him Khalid’s parents disagree, and they soon arrive in the bustling Pakistani city of Karachi. What Khalid finds there is far from boring. The streets are filled with whispers of U.S troops and terrorist informers, and Khalid’s worst fears are horribly realised when he’s kidnapped and detained for questioning by U.S troops.

Surely they’ll quickly realise he’s innocent and release him? They can’t possibly send a 15 year old to Guantanamo Bay. Can they?

This book combines that chilling mixture of everyday normality and unimaginable horror. It’s the kind of story that really haunts you because it depicts a horribe situation that could so easily be true. As the author notes, ‘although Guantanamo Boy is a work of fiction, it is inspired by real events. It remains a fact that children have been abducted and abused and held without charge in the name of justice in Guantanamo Bay and many other secret prisons around the world.’

I certainly couldn’t put this down. I can’t say it was always an enjoyable read, but it was definitely immersive and thought provoking. Whilst this book carries a strong and valuable political message, the overriding sentiments are that of love and the support of family and friends. Khalid is well drawn and Anna Perera does a brilliant job of persuading even the most indifferent of readers to truly care about his wellbeing. She does this subtly over the course of the story, and I found my affection for him building slowly whilst my full attention remained centred on his inhumane treatment.

Unlike many other novels dealing with similar stories of abuse, the narrative of Guantanamo Boy is lightened by lifelike humour and small acts of kindness. This contrast allows the darker moments to retain their sharpness, and it allowed me to keep reading for long periods of time without feeling emotionally drained.

Anna Perera has highlighted the importance of human kindness in a truly remarkable setting. This book needs to be in every school library.

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