What do you get when you mix the New York fashion scene with al–Qaeda? You get a darkly humorous novel that delves into the paranoia that gripped the US in the months and years following 9/11. From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant is just that, as it follows Boyet Hernandez, a Filipino designer who has come to New York to make a name for himself and his clothing line (B)oy.
Boy runs into problems immediately upon arrival in the US. He has big dreams and talent to back them up, but not the funding. Just as he imagines he may never have the backing he needs to make the clothing line he has envisioned, a chance encounter with a neighbor changes his world. What Boy is too naïve to realize is that this new benefactor, with an apartment full of fertilizer, may not be funding his clothing line out of sheer love for his design aesthetic. Boy doesn’t see that he is being used as a front for much more sinister works.
We learn of Boy’s New York exploits as he writes about them from his tiny cell in No Man’s Land, (ie: Guantanamo Bay) where he is being held and interrogated, without having been arrested and without access to a lawyer. On yellow legal pad after yellow legal pad, Boy walks his interrogator (and us) through those early days in the United States. We see how much he loves the US, how entirely focused he is on clothing design and how he was too self-absorbed to realize what was going on around him.
Boyet is a likeable protagonist. He is embroiled in a mess well-beyond his understanding, and yet he tries to make sense of it by pulling forth his own renderings of history, philosophy and literature, usually butchering these references beyond belief. (The footnotes throughout the tale help sort out the points he is trying to make.) My favorite of these ill-guided attempts at allusion is when he tries to make a connection to the works of 19th century Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky, saying he particularly liked the one about the idiot, if only he could remember the title! This just puts a stamp on Boyet’s incredible nativity and innocence as he is being accused of the heinous and horrible acts.
I really like that this book breaks out of the conventional novel box. I like that it is Boyet’s own “confession,” written while held captive, bookended by a prologue and afterward by a reporter wishing to make the story known. This organization pushes the reader to imagine how such unwarranted detentions were (and still are) possible in a country where we say we prize freedom and the rule of law, but we are so afraid of terrorists getting the upper hand that those sentiments can be easily swept under the carpet in the name of protecting the homeland. Boy’s story is a fictional one, but it does force the reader to stop and consider how close to reality certain aspects may be treading.
A unique style, coupled with a tale that weaves fashion and ethics together earns Alex Gilvarry’s novel From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant: