...a funny, maddening, sometimes absurd reckoning with the pettiness of the Dutch immigration system as seen by Samir, an Iraqi refugee who is stuck in an asylum centre for nine years. The novel, already a bestseller in the Netherlands, is openly autobiographical and, to be fair, the Dutch are just a stand-in for all entitled westerners and bureaucrats ... The stories in Two Blankets, Three Sheets are heartbreaking, exhausting and infuriating ... Here, and throughout, [Al Galidi] is trying to make the settled reader understand the precarious nature of truth for the refugee storyteller. Credibility is awarded to the whitest, the richest, the ones with the best English. Single men who have made mistakes at the border are doomed to languish, unbelieved, for years ... Al Galidi makes little use of the artistic tools available to a novelist. He is close to the story and recounts it like unedited non-fiction – one event after another, rather than rising and falling tensions; strings of underused characters; a deus ex machina bringing the novel to a halt. Sometimes he engages in fantastical dialogue – making his hero too brave, too bold. One can see the refugee’s fantasy of what he might have said. In this way, Al Galidi’s life fails to transform fully into a novel in the same way a refugee might never weave a story powerful enough to move a cynical Dutch interviewer ...The prose (or maybe just the translation) is often clunky: cliches and heavy-handed images abound. Many of the jokes fall flat or are ruined by over-explanation ... [Al Galidi] is lost in the space between fiction and non-fiction, apologising for every invention ... And yet I’ve never read a book that better illustrates the human cost of the European asylum systems – their many flaws and deceptions, the bad faith with which small inconsistencies are used to return people to danger, the way the sympathies of a single, jaded interviewer can make or ruin a life, how a translation error carelessly entered into a file can stand as the damning proof of a lie for ever. This vital, eye-opening work is essential to our collective education, as a history, as a call to action, bringing one person’s suffering vividly to life in the imagination of strangers. And in the end that, as much as crafted stories and artful prose, gives literature its enduring power.
...an engrossing and exasperating novel ...The first of Al Galidi’s works to be translated into English, the book straddles the line between fiction and memoir as it draws on the author’s own experience as a refugee in the Netherlands to construct a tale defined by protracted delays and seemingly endless waiting ... Although written as a novel, Al Galidi’s book often resembles an eyewitness’s critique of international refugee law and institutions, written with equal amounts of earnestness and style. His is a dogged assertion of the personality and humor of the contemporary immigrant ... Al Galidi wrote the novel in Dutch, which he taught himself despite being forbidden to attend language classes as an undocumented asylum seeker. Two Blankets, Three Sheets is a work of clean, spare prose, written in a matter-of-fact tone. The story sometimes feels less like a narrative than an essay, meandering through loose threads of thought toward a resolution as anticlimactic as much of the plot, or lack thereof. It is a labor of patience as dogged, we may think, as the experience of waiting for asylum for nine years.
Two Blankets, Three Sheets essentially consists of a (nonlinear) series of anecdotes related by Samir, and as such hangs together loosely. Aside from Samir himself, the characters are in the service of the anecdotes, for which they often do not need to be fleshed out, as the emphasis is on bringing into relief the comic nature of an encounter or illustrating a particular absurdity ... What works in Al Galidi’s favor is not only that he proves funny and poignant, but that the asylum center does not serve as the venue for all the episodes he sketches. Samir jumps between the asylum center, the seaside town in which it is located...and back in time to Thailand, Vietnam, Jordan, Iraq, and elsewhere ... Much of the amusement derives from the culture clash and misunderstandings Samir and his fellow refugees experience when coming into contact with Dutch people ... Here, the humor is generally broad, but can be quite effective. More clever is Al Galidi’s portrayal of paradoxes created by combinations of rules.