Boyet Hernandez is a small man with a big American dream when he arrives in New York in 2002, fresh out of fashion school in the Philippines. But on the brink of fame and fortune, there comes instead a knock on the door in the middle of the night: the flamboyant ex-Catholic is swept to America’s most notorious prison, administered a Qur’an and locked away indefinitely to discover his link to a terrorist plot.
The narrative crackles with satire, even before Boyet innocently lands himself at Guantánamo as the first detainee captured on United States soil and decides to bring the place a little flair by removing the sleeves from his orange jumpsuit ... You’ll also be twisting a lip upward at the Bellowesque brio of Gilvarry’s language ... The real purpose of the comedic bravura is not to amuse you. It’s to soften you up for the horror that comes raining down in the final 50 pages, when Boyet, so lately the toast of the runway, is interrogated, humiliated and given a close-up view of state-sponsored brutality ... Comedy, we’re reminded, often has an ulterior motive. Here the intention could hardly be more serious — to scare the smirk off our mugs as we enter Year 10 of Guantánamo’s use as a prison, with no end to the suffering in sight.
...Boy’s story draws some striking parallels between the way we mythologize stars and the way we look at terrorists ... Both are often outsiders, and both require pathological amounts of attention to fully achieve their status in the public sphere. From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant slices through these tropes, using Boy’s pure improbability as the skewering blade ... Gilvarry is a better dialogue spinner than a narrative writer. The conversations here are so hilarious and quotable it’s a bit odd that Gilvarry never gets complete control over Boy’s voice ... The female characters here are also desperately thin, and not just because so many of them are models ... In order to squeeze in the whole arc of Boy’s rise and fall, the book needs to keep moving. And yet it also seems to want to move us. It can’t do both, and so in the book’s slightly baggy middle section it does neither ... The last hundred pages of this book are very difficult to stop reading.
It’s a clash of universes—one hopeful but ultimately shallow, another uncertain and unspeakably harsh. Gilvarry navigates the contrast with ease; in some places, you’ll want to leaf back and reread just how he moved you from one environment to the next so seamlessly ... Researched fiction often grows clumsy with excessive fact, but Gilvarry knows how to immerse his readers without harping on the trivial. Described in Boyet’s voice, both fashion and political imprisonment become acutely vivid ... Gilvarry plants potent seeds of doubt as he moves from the tragic to the ridiculous and back. The moral, one could say, is that there is no final truth in Boyet’s situation ... Intricately researched and expertly crafted, Memoirs is a poignant reminder of what contemporary fiction ought to be.