Lorraine Adams
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Buy *Harbor* online


Lorraine Adams
304 pages
August 2004
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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In Harbor, a remarkably empathetic debut novel, Washington Post reporter and Pulitzer Prize-winner Lorraine Adams has touchingly limned the harsh realities of immigrant lives. Young Aziz Harkoun flees his native strife-ridden Algeria and endures a brutal ride to the Promised Land as a stowaway. He finds himself in the chilly waters of Boston harbor and quietly settles in with a circle of Algerian acquaintances.

The connection between the friends in a run-down apartment in a seedy suburb of Boston is heartwarming yet tenuous; each knows the other is an illegal immigrant, and even an application for asylum is evaluated for potential signs of betrayal. They envy the only one who has a green card - Mourad, Aziz’s brother. Adams does a remarkable job of portraying the Algerians’ precarious existence:

“They worked. There seemed to be nothing but that,” she writes, “They knew there was, but it was not for them. Heather was a secretary at a law firm. Rafik said he was at the Brighton Moving and Storage Company. Aziz assumed he was over at Kamal’s, on a cell phone to Munich, haggling over stolen suits, plotting shipments of nothing good, stalling someone with variations on words like margins, deadlines, and overnight express. Lahouari worked at the Old New England Body Shop. One of his brothers, Hamid, delivered pizza in Cambridge. The others, Ali, fried doughnuts. The Three sent money home.”
Aziz’s circle of friends includes Rafik - the only one with a girlfriend, Heather. Aziz and his friends are quite convinced that Rafik is up to no good. At the center of the novel, occupying much of the worry-filled minutes of the friends’ lives, is a U-Stor-It that Rafik has rented in a suburb and that Aziz and his friends suspect is filled with things that can only be dangerous. As the shady dealings of a couple of the friends begin to envelop more lives, it is only a matter of time before the Feds are hot on the Algerians’ trail, assuming that they together constitute a terrorist cell. As part of her investigative reporting, Adams worked on the millennium terrorist plot to detonate a bomb at Los Angeles airport. She uses her background knowledge to ample advantage here, demonstrating how difficult it is to try potential suspects without violating civil rights and without sweeping them all with one broad brush. One of the many conversations between the authorities and Aziz highlight these issues really well:
“We would like you, when you are at the mosque, to help identify for us those individuals.”
“I do not go.”
“You don’t go to the mosque?”
“No, I work every day. There is no mosque for me.”
Two red ties looked at each other as if there were a revelation they weren’t ready for or didn’t believe.”
“But I help. I help you much.”
Adams’s dialog is also above par in Harbor and the deliberately choppy sentences place the reader well in the minds of the Algerians. Pulling him emotionally to the past is Aziz’s memories of the civil strife in Algeria, a war he participated in and whose brutal atrocities he cannot erase. “Life was a series of dramas in which the goal was a place where you could talk, truly talk, and say whatever it was that haunted you at night alone,” he says, yet sadly, his goal proves ever elusive when he lives in the shadows and in constant fear. “Days—no, weeks—went by without a person speaking to him, and longer still, without someone’s eyes meeting his own,” Adams writes of Aziz, “His place in the order of things was not a place; maybe, as he came to think of it, it was an insert, a scooping out, into which he belonged, but if he were to die or to quit or not be there for some reason, another, not like him but adequate to his function, would be fitted in...”

As we watch with increasing sadness, Adams drives home the central point of her novel beautifully: even America, every immigrant’s dream, with all its attendant luxuries and promises, can be far from a safe harbor for everyone desperately seeking to come ashore.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Poornima Apte, 2004

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