By Lorraine Adams
Harbor is one of those books that you either love or hate. The New York Times Book Review said, “Captivating...Intricately plotted and beautifully written...A remarkable act of artistic empathy.”
I would agree that Harbor is wonderfully written and kudos must go to Lorraine Adams. It is her skills alone that provided a reason to keep reading, for as long as I could. I even violated my own principle and went to read the last chapter, but found nothing there that changed my opinion.
For, you see, I have to admit that I could not, as I usually would for a professional review, bypass my personal feelings—my responses to the book. While empathic, I could not find the sympathy sought in having young men leave a country in which they feared their life, only to come to America and lie, cheat, steal and murder. In my opinion, the problem with this kind of story is that it promulgates negative feelings rather than the potential positive ones that, perhaps, were expected.
Additionally, in this book and at least one other I have read, there are implications about American women, which, if stated sufficient times, only promulgates these perceptions.
Heather, for instance, is characterized as being seen by the men as someone who is a whore, and even is beaten by one of the men living in the apartment. Whether there is indeed a romantic relationship between Heather and one of the men, the author's overall description and treatment of Heather is the more telling characterization.
In fact, the concept of all women being readily available for sex and money is clearly stated:
There were the women, who, even if they were the lowest-paid of the lowest, made more than anyone in Algeria. They could be bedded and lived off, and during the day, when at work, there were other women and other things.” (p. 154)
...with his head still bowed, he looked upward and met her eyes, just the moment that was needed. He saw the shift in her instantly. She was susceptible to him... (p. 150)
“You have a woman?”...
“Free Boston ...[women] makes you forget Allah real quick.”
“Free. That is the thing. Free.” (p. 133)
Indeed Adams has correctly empathized...but do we really want to create this image as globally American! I for one do not find it beneficial. And resulted in totally pulling me out of her storyline!
I recognize that this is more an essay than a review. Actually, I really didn’t like the book, even without the issue that caused me to “hate” it. The book is hard to follow, it moves from site to site, but there is little to pull readers in after you realize that the men are just criminals from another country rather than from America. And even the main character, Aziz lies about his identity and gets a fellow countryman murdered. Sorry, I wouldn’t recommend this book except as a resource for any historical events which may be of interest to readers. It is well-written.