Guantanamo: A Novel

08/15/2007 12:00 AM |

Dorothea Dieckmann [Trans. Tim Mohr]
Soft Skull Press
On sale Aug. 24

To most Americans, the name Guantanamo is convenient shorthand for the excesses of the so-called War On Terror. No one who reads Dorothea Dieckmann’s lacerating novel, however, will ever again have the comfort of
thinking of the infamous prison in abstract terms.

Guantanamo: A Novel
is an unforgiving read. Dieckmann, a German novelist and critic, takes as her protagonist a young tourist named Rashid and drops him without exposition into a nightmarish series of torture and beatings. The effect, in the hands of her calm, precise, lyrical prose, is disorienting and scouringly brutal. Only through a series of hallucinatory flashbacks does the reader learn how cruelly arbitrary Rashid’s fate is.

Judging Dieckmann’s novel, which is well-served by Tim Mohr’s extraordinarily nuanced translation, is a question of literary prejudice. The book is beautifully written and clearly serves a moral purpose; at the same time, reading it is a grim and joyless experience. Ironically, perhaps only a European could provide such an enervating account of the fallout of America’s national obsession.