The Penguins’ 2012 publication From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant created a buzz in the literary world pretty quickly. Having won the prestigious Hornblower award, the 320-page satirical book garnered much critical acclaim. Its author Alex Gilvarry contributed to Vogue, The Nation, and NPR’s “All Things Considered”. Gilvarry addressed a group of first year students at Northeastern University, an event organised by Elzabeth Dilion, professor and chair of the Department of English.
Gilvarry says that he had made a pact with himself. If his manuscript was going to be picked up for publication, he would continue to pursue his dream of being a storyteller; if he was rejected, he would move on with life and look at other options. As life would have it, not only was he published by one of the world’s best publication houses but also named in the National Book Foundation’s ‘5 Under 35’ list in 2014.
Gilvarry says that he wanted to become a writer since the time he was in third grade because he liked the way people responded to the idea. What started out as such a small dream, later on resulted in this masterpiece which is both serious and funny at the same time. Capturing the post-9/11 days when suspected terrorists were sent to detention camps without any due process, the book follows the life of Hernandez, a Filipino fashion designer and a Guantanamo Bay detainee. “Fashion is easy to poke fun at”, he says, “and I could get a lot of humour out of it” which he successfully did.
When asked about the decreasing number of book readers, Gilvarry says that reading books is good for students of all majors because reading good literature is like meditation: it’s concentrated thought. The talk was followed by a question and answer session by the students which proved that the book provoked thought amongst them.
N Malavika Mohan