Alex Gilvarry takes the gloves off in his witty, urbane, horrific and humorous novel From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant. The story is the account of what happens to a hungry Filipino designer who makes the pilgrimage to New York after fashion school, seeking his fame and fortune. He finds a little of each. But, on the cusp of real success, with a nod from Barney’s, interest from Bergdorf’s and favorable reviews in “W” and other couture rags, he is kidnapped from his Williamsburg loft one night and spirited away to Guantanamo where he languishes for months in a hellish blur of confusion.
Boyet Hernandez is bright enough to toss quotes and attributions from Coco Chanel, Dostoyevsky, Donna Karan and the Bible into his droll observations but half the time he is comically flat-out wrong. Not so comical is his deliberately naïve view of his convenient downstairs neighbor, the duplicitous and calculating Ahmed, who bankrolls his foray into the fashion world. Ahmed triggers Boy’s bullshit sensor from the beginning but his easy cash is a lifeline to the white tents in Bryant Park during Fashion Week and Boy can’t resist. His willful blindness to what Ahmed is really up to lands him in custody for collusion and his scribbled recollections, mandated by his captors who provide him with yellow legal pads and pens, reveal his ambition and the traps that were set for him.
(B)oy (the label that signifies his name and the fact that he is headquartered in Brooklyn) builds month-by-networking-month towards acceptance and success, just as Ahmed, Ahmed’s shady accountant and his Indian moneylender launder terrorist funds through the start-up label. Boy’s Irish-American publicist has the unfortunate name of Ben Laden. The book is loaded with insider glimpses of the drug-fueled fashion business and the conditions of incarceration for guilt-by-association in America’s offshore prison. It’s both fascinating and chilling. Tons of fertilizer under tarps in the corner of a Bushwick apartment might set off clanging alarms for anyone less desperate and myopic. But the Kafkaesque world of post-911 indefinite incarceration might sour a less optimistic soul much faster than it suffocates Boy. In the middle of an inexplicable nightmare, Boy clings to his belief in the American dream.
Gilvarry has captured an almost cartoonish moment in history when what is real counts less than the fear-fiction that shadows all our lives. There are questions to be asked at the end of this very entertaining and sobering book: What defines real talent in the fashion industry? Who are the real terrorists and what price are we paying for our fantasy of security? And what the hell is a “non-enemy combatant” anyway?
From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant: A Novel Alex Gilvarry | Viking 2012