A Day and a Night and a Dayby Glen Duncan
Illegally arrested and without hope of reprieve, unlikely terrorist Augustus Rose finds himself at the mercy of Harper, ruthless interrogator and ambassador for the darkest forces at work in our times. In the ordeal that brings his whole life under brutal scrutiny, Augustus has but one shield: memory. His is a past filled with talismanic women, but at its
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Illegally arrested and without hope of reprieve, unlikely terrorist Augustus Rose finds himself at the mercy of Harper, ruthless interrogator and ambassador for the darkest forces at work in our times. In the ordeal that brings his whole life under brutal scrutiny, Augustus has but one shield: memory. His is a past filled with talismanic women, but at its center is Selina, a stunning, rebellious white aristocrat with whom he shared an epic, taboo love. Their affair, begun in 1960s Manhattan, would yield a lifetime's worth of passion, heartbreak, and wanderlust, leading Augustus from Harlem to Greenwich Village, from El Salvador to Barcelona, from Morocco to a bleak Scottish island where death seems his only companion.
British writer Duncan's cerebral, propulsive seventh novel (after The Bloodstone Papers) digs with philosophical intensity into the timely question of what makes both a terrorist and a torturer tick-with a twist: the terrorist is Augustus Rose, an African-Italian-American former journalist turned successful New York restaurateur. Rose, recruited during his naïve youth into an international organization that practices "vigilante democracy," is imprisoned in Guantánamo, where Harper, an efficiently cruel U.S. operative, interrogates him, providing the main thread of the novel's three plot lines. The second recounts Rose's complex romance with Selina, which blossomed in 1968 when he was age 21 and ended three decades later with her death in a Barcelona bombing. The third sees a post-torture Rose retire to a bleak British island where he's awaiting death, until he's drawn into the violent world of a girl who befriends him. Duncan describes physical pain and emotional anguish with dramatically distilled, merciless prose, all the while carving a wondrous love story out of a tragic contemporary world where torture has become a numbing norm. (Jan.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Londoner Duncan's seventh novel (after The Bloodstone Papers) is as timely as it is heartbreaking-which is both a warning and a recommendation. Herein is the exquisitely crafted story of Augustus Rose, a man of mixed ethnic background who came to terrorism late in life. The backdrop is the protagonist's harrowing interrogation by the U.S. government, but the narrator's memories of his lover soon take precedence. The mix of brutal politics and wrenching personal emotions is reminiscent of William T. Vollmann or Salman Rushdie. The interrogator's philosophical asides may be a bit much for American readers ("This is the crux. The failure of the scripts. Love, justice, equality, salvation"), but a certain class of readers will devour the book like an emergency broadcast even through our hero's dissolution.
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A Day and a Night and a Day
By Glen Duncan
Copyright © 2009
All right reserved.
Chapter One The room he wakes up in has the fraught stink of a phone booth, which in spite of everything evokes escort ads and brings a pang of loss, not for sex but for tenderness. The last woman was a young dark-haired prostitute in Barcelona he'd paid extra to lie with him for an hour postcoitally, his nose in her downy nape. Just lie here? Yes, if that's okay. She'd been palpably uneasy, as if affection was an edgy perversion, but what could he tell her? He was astonished himself.
Dry-mouthed, he lifts his head off his chest and feels a granular crunch in his neck. No idea how long he's been out. The handcuffs look brand-new, glamorous against his dark skin. Sikh men wear those steel bangles and often have showgirl eyelashes yet appear superbly masculine. He wouldn't have minded being a Sikh. Selina years ago said the turban had deep phallic allure-which was the sort of thing she came out with apropos of nothing. Naturally non-sequiturial, by the time he met her she was exploiting the trait having learned it charmed -people. Their friends regarded her as someone enviably at ease in her own skin. He, privy offstage and after hours, knew her hung about with superstitions and fears, all the trinkets and bogeymen of her half-shucked Catholicism. Nonetheless she glimmered in the crowd: women knew to be at the top of their game, men made adjustments, maximized themselves. Standing at the bar he'd watch her and remind himself he was the one going home with her. What the women objected to, aside from the standard injustice of random beauty, was her intelligence. Intelligence on top of the long legs and natural blond was sheerly immoral. That and having the guts to do what they stopped short of: publicly date a negro. Or half-negro. Or whatever he was. He'd stand at the bar and let the warmth of sexual ownership flow through him. Harry, languidly drying a highball glass said: You two are a profane enchantment, you know that? He did know it. Manhattan's streets met them with a murmur of outrage. Imperious amusement, Selina said. We return them imperious amusement and benign disdain. That's easy for you to say, he said. You're not the one they're going to beat the shit out of. You're not the one they're going to lynch. This was 1967. With her he thought the biggest thing his life could offer had arrived.
And since here he is almost forty years later it turns out he was right.
His wristwatch is gone. They removed it when they brought him in. Carry nothing of sentimental value, so he never does. An airport Swatch, $75. He's always loved the harried polyglotism of airports. Transit lounges suggest the great subversion: there aren't countries, only -people, the secret everyone suspects and governments live in fear of. He remembers the brownstone doorway of his childhood in East Harlem, darkness framing the blistered stoop, the blinding asphalt, the smell of garbage cans and urine. You stood on the threshold and felt the world right there like the hot flank of an animal. There was one never-repeated visit to his grandfather ten blocks away, a straw-colored Santa Clausy man with a plump nose and huge sour pants who said get that nigger brat out of here.
Which thought turns out to be the last fluttering postponement. He strains against the handcuffs until his skull thuds, stops when the pain gets too much. Any pain now is an outrider for the pain coming. -People use the phrase "the worst-case scenario," it's always contextual. Not here: This is the worst-case scenario, the Platonic Form, of which all others are imperfect instances.
He can't remember which fake name he's been using, for a yawning second can't remember his real name-then it comes to him with his mother's face and a feeling of nearness to her. She was a supple dark-haired woman with green eyes and what he now realizes was a mouth so sensuous as to amount to a destiny. Juliet. The crazy wop broad with the nigger kid. In Capitals of the Western World Italy was Saint Peter's Square and the Trevi Fountain, white statues against a blue sky, but she'd never been there, she said. Born here. I'm an American. You're an American. When he took his childhood miseries to her she'd doodle gently on his bare back with her fingernails, her attention somewhere else. Along with the green eyes she gave him English, Italian, a handful of Dutch words and her own wrecked Catholicism, which naturally didn't survive his education's dismantling of dear things. Where the house of many mansions used to be is pointless space, scalloped by physics, not even infinite any more.
Somewhere in this simmer he's busy with the problem of getting out of his body. There's a simple but horribly elusive equation if only he can remember it. Elsewhere he's accepting the room's details as the last of itself the world can give him. You imagine it'll be a lover's face or an evening sky. Instead bare concrete, a shivering fluorescent, four plug sockets, stains on the floor.
The door opens and three men walk in, two olive-skinned in combat fatigues, one white in pastel Gap casuals.
He wishes he still believed in God, checks the pliable air for His presence, but of course there's nothing.
Considering he's Calansay's first black or even semi-black man-an American with jewelish green eye and piratical eye-patch to boot-the islanders have assimilated him without much fuss. A few days of aphasic shock when he walked into the Costcutter, the warmth of stares when his back was turned, then they made the shift. Collective intuition says he's come to die among them so curiosity overrides: they want his story. The teenagers call him Captain Mandela, a handful of enlightened souls Mr. Rose, the majority That Black Chap, a tiny minority matter-of-factly The Nigger or The Coon.
Excerpted from A Day and a Night and a Day by Glen Duncan Copyright © 2009 by Glen Duncan. Excerpted by permission.
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Glen Duncan is the critically acclaimed author of six previous novels, including Death of an Ordinary Man; I, Lucifer; and, most recently, The Bloodstone Papers. He lives in London.
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They are both Americans linked forever in their respective minds by the Global War on Terrorism. They perform a dance ritual several times a day, but in a part of America not within the fifty states. Instead operative Harper tortures alleged terrorist Rose in a dark cell in the pits of Guantanamo expecting to extract information like a dentist taking out a tooth without Novocain.
The African-Italian Rose expects to die here because the CIA and White House can hide the fact they have tortured an American citizen at Gitmo. Up until his snatch he was a Manhattan restaurant owner with a past. Rose thinks back to the 1950s growing up in Harlem where he was condemned for his Italian paternal roots leading a decade later to Merkete easily recruiting him as a soldier in her "vigilante democracy" movement, which the Americans called terrorism. He remembers 1968 when he was twenty-one and in love with Selina; thirty years later she died in a Barcelona bombing. Finally he is old and alone expecting death once again while on some bleak British island; but even there he is pulled back into the violence of humanity when he meets a girl.
This is a fascinating character study that condemns the Bush legacy of torture accepted by Americans as a standard operating procedure regardless of the information obtained or the victim¿s worth. Although Rose is the prime star, he shines when he is compared with Harper as Glen Duncan digs deep into each of their souls to uncover what motivates a terrorist and an inquisitioner to act the way they do: Intriguingly each claims the moral high ground of their end objective condoning the means they use. The Selina and the post-Gitmo subplots are also well written; but it is comparing the inspirations of the two antagonistic Americans that turns this into a terrific intelligent look at a world that has become anesthetized to genocide, terrorism, and torture.
Mr. Duncan has created a novel that you'll remember reading after 2 months, 2 years and even beyond that time frame. This book is not only relevant to our generation, but human nature. It questions our (particularly Americas) morality code and examines how two very different men can be pushed to the brink. The protagonist is Augustus Rose, a man of mixed heritage, who was raised in New York in the `60s. He has a life changing relationship with an upper class white woman named Selina and its this relationship that he remembers while being interrogated by a US operative named Harper, another man who's internally tormented. The book is consistently strong in its portrayal of what it feels like to be a black man in America (I happen to be black) and the constant nagging that Augustus is an outsider in a changing country. A couple of small criticisms I have are that the third act is simply too long. The reader has a pretty good idea of where the book will conclude and Mr. Duncan took his time getting there. My other criticism is that there were a complete lack of details about what the main character actually did in this group. Being ambiguous is a good thing, especially in this sort of book, but we have no idea if he's a high ranking official in this movement and Mr. Duncan should have provided some sort of concrete evidence to support some sort of conclusion.