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This debut, published in 2009 in the UK, chronicles in devastating detail the kidnapping, incarceration and torture of an ordinary teenager six months after 9/11.
Born in England to immigrant parents, Khalid, 15, is an avid soccer fan and fair-to-middling student. He enjoys online gaming with a Pakistani cousin, but he has no desire to visit Pakistan himself and resents having to join a family trip to Karachi, There, through a convoluted but plausible chain of events, he's mistaken for a terrorist, abducted and sent to Kandahar, Afghanistan, then to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. During Khalid's two-year ordeal under U.S. control, he encounters other innocent victims of the War on Terror who've been subjected to torture, including waterboarding. Their jailors range from sadistic to indifferent, though a few manifest detached compassion. Khalid's experience in "enemy combatant" limbo is equally harrowing, demonstrating that helplessness and boredom can be torture, too. However, in showing readers only innocent victims, Perera effectively narrows the argument against torture to its inefficiency and unreliability. The case for a total ban requires showing why torture is wrong even when victims aren't "pure."
Nonetheless, this gripping look at a poorly defined war's unintended consequences uniquely challenges readers to reexamine common beliefs and ask searching questions about means and ends. (author's note, timeline, discussion guide) (Fiction. 13 & up)
Sometimes, Khalid thinks as he drags himself home after another boring day at school, I'd rather be anywhere but here. The thought of having to explain to his dad what happened yesterday is making his guts turn over and he hopes and prays the letter from school complaining about his behavior in the science lab won't be there waiting for him. But as soon as he unlocks the door to 9 Oswestry Road, the envelope catches the corner of the mat.
Great. Khalid shakes his head at the sight of the school crest of Rochdale High on the back of the white envelope. Picking it up, he dumps his bag at his feet, throws his school blazer at the hook on the wall and, breathing in the smell of last night's curry, hurries to the kitchen, where there's more light.
For a moment, Khalid spaces out looking round the open-plan kitchenette. At the knives in the correct slots of the wooden knife holder. At the blue striped dishcloth, folded neatly on the metal drainer, and bar of pink soap in the see-through plastic dish between the shiny taps. Everything's clean and bright, nice and neat, and nothing like the mess and terrible panic he feels at the thought of his dad reading this letter from his science teacher. He slumps down on a chair and listens to the hum of distant traffic. Checks the clock, ticking steadily on the wall, counting down the seconds until the front door clicks open. For the last three days Dad hasn't left the Vegetarian First restaurant in Manchester, where he's been working for ten years as a lunch chef, until around six o'clock and it's only three forty-five now. It could be hours before he gets home.
The sweet smell of polish is coming from the small wooden table pushed up against the yellow wall beside Khalid. He lifts his feet up to rest them on the table. With the letter from school in his hand, he waits patiently for his sisters, six-year-old Aadab and four-year-old Gul, to charge down the hall, followed by Mum rustling bags of shopping.
"Sadly, Khalid, you cannot be trusted to behave sensibly in the science lab," Mr. Hanwood had said. "I'm going to write to your parents about this."
Thanks a lot.
"I never liked him," Khalid says out loud. Yesterday wasn't even his fault. His mate Nico was angry with Devy, who owed him money, and when he asked for it Devy told him where to go and Nico reached for his collar and Devy went crazy and tried attacking Nico with his science book. But Nico ducked and he hit Khalid in the face instead. Naturally Khalid threw his school bag at him, which knocked most of the lab equipment off the bench, sending everything flying. And the only thing Mr. Hanwood saw as he came through the door was Khalid flinging his bag.
Oh well, it's too late now. Unless he gets rid of the letter ... Things get lost in the mail all the time, don't they? But a moment later the front door bashes open and he hears Aadab and Gul squealing.
"Ouch! Mum, Gul's pinching me," Aadab complains loudly.
"Khalid, how many times have I told you not to leave your bag on the mat and your jacket on the floor?" Mum shouts, ignoring the girls' bickering.
"I didn't!" Khalid shouts back, taking his feet off the table and stuffing the letter quickly into his pants pocket. "I put my jacket on the hook. It must have fallen off."
"Yes, because you didn't hang it up properly," Mum says, suddenly there beside him with a white plastic shopping bag cutting into each arm. Behind her Aadab and Gul thunder up the stairs to change out of their school clothes.
"Sorry." Khalid jumps up to take the heavy bags from her. "What time's Dad home tonight?"
"Any minute now," Mum says. "He'd better not be late again or I'll be having words with that boss of his. He works too hard, your father, and never complains."
Khalid stares at his mum. She's frowning, always worried about something or other, which is probably why her thick, shiny hair is starting to turn gray. Her eagle eyes are all over the place, looking for anything out of order that she might need to put right. Of course he could give her the letter, but she looks tired out and is too busy unpacking groceries, and anyway, she'll just tell Khalid to wait until his dad's back.
Trying to act normal, Khalid wanders into the living room and switches on the TV. There's a news item about Guantanamo Bay, the prison in Cuba that Mr. Tagg was telling them about in history yesterday. A picture flashes up of a group of soldiers pointing guns at men in orange prison suits bent double on the ground, surrounded by high wire fences with a couple of nasty-looking dogs to one side.
"The camp is being expanded to house more Taliban prisoners," the newsreader says.
Poor guys, Khalid thinks.
"Six months after 9/11 and the world is getting madder by the day," Dad says, suddenly behind him.
"Oh, hi, Dad. Didn't hear you come in. How's it going?" Khalid's heart is pounding faster and faster as he tries to sound calm.
"My feet are killing me," Dad mutters, not noticing anything odd as he shuffles away.
Half an hour later, Dad is sitting beside Khalid at the table, telling them all about his day. How much lentil khoresh was wasted. How many half-eaten naan breads were thrown out. He goes full tilt through the contents of the restaurant bins with pain on his face. Aadab and Gul frown along with him, trying not to giggle during his long pauses, and wait patiently for him to unwrap the tin foil from the slices of nutmeg cake he keeps in his pocket for dessert.
Khalid worries and fidgets, not daring to fish the letter from his pocket.
"Things will get worse before they get better," Dad says. "A man came into the restaurant today, pointed his finger at the waiter and said, 'You better watch your step round here, mate.' Can you believe it? The boy hasn't done anything wrong. Nothing except wear the shalwar kameez. That's it."
"The table is not the place to discuss world events," Mum says. "Food goes down badly if you are concerned at all." She doesn't like sitting on the floor to eat either, like her brother's family. "We are living in England," she says. "Not Turkey or Pakistan, and English floors are cold, with or without cushions."
Khalid always does the dishes after tea. It's something Dad taught him to do when he was six years old. "Helping your mum shows her respect," he says, and Khalid's glad to do it, because Mum works hard in the office at the local primary school and is always tired when she gets home.
Today, Khalid dries while Mum washes, picking up the cutlery with the tea towel in one swoop to save time. Quickly arranging the red tumblers in a line on the shelf, anxious to get it over with, because he has plans to meet his Pakistani cousin online at six o'clock. Tariq's in Lahore, so this time works out OK for both of them.
Mum spots him checking the clock. "Tariq isn't a bad boy." She smiles, reading Khalid's mind. "But he can't settle to anything, Uncle says."
"Can't settle? He's learning Arabic, isn't he?" Dad laughs, unfolding his newspaper. "That's not something I ever managed to do. Tariq speaks English, Urdu, Punjabi—now Arabic. He's going places, that young man! You'll see."
Khalid glances at his mother, but there's no smile on her face.
"Why don't you like Tariq, Mum?"
"He's having too big an influence on you. All the time you are Tariq this, Tariq that, as if he's someone very important." Mum folds her arms and raises her eyes to heaven. "Even Dad says this." She glances at Dad's blank, innocent face with disbelief. "Yes. Yes, you do!"
Dad smiles secretively at Khalid, as if to say, Let it go. But Mum can't let it go, insisting on staring at the computer in the corner as if it's an evil monster.
"My brother tells me Tariq spends too much time on the computer and he doesn't listen," she continues. "What kind of young man lives like this? A very bad way to behave, and don't argue."
"I wasn't going to!" Khalid protests, while remembering it was Mum who encouraged their friendship in the first place. For a long time, because of her, he's hero-worshipped his older cousin. Sending his first e-mail to him almost two years ago, when he heard the news from Mum that Radhwa, the two-year-old sister Tariq adored, had died. Died slowly after a long illness. Mum explained that Tariq went totally crazy, refusing to believe she was gone, and had nightmares for weeks on end. At the time Tariq was fifteen, Khalid only thirteen, and though the whole family was brokenhearted, no one took Radhwa's death harder than Tariq.
"Write to him, your cousin," Mum had ordered. "Say something to help him get better." So he did, e-mailing him the hottest Web links for his home town, Rochdale, and their football club. It was strange at first, e-mailing someone he didn't really know, but bit by bit they became friends who chatted mostly about the stuff they had in common. Computers, video games, football, movies, the usual things that everyone likes whether they live in Rochdale or Lahore.
If Mum ever found out that Khalid sneaked downstairs to talk to Tariq for hours on end, in the middle of the night when everyone was asleep, she'd have a fit. But if she knew how much he was learning from his cousin, not that he was ever going to tell her, then perhaps she wouldn't worry so much. He could talk to Tariq about stuff that his friends wouldn't care about. They were probably all going to stay in Rochdale their whole lives, but Khalid wanted to see the world. He didn't want to end up like his dad, working hard for someone else all his life. Khalid was always telling his dad to set up a restaurant of his own, but he wouldn't listen.
"There's nothing I haven't seen," Tariq writes in his e-mails to Khalid. "I've been to Turkey, to Medina, seen the first mosque at al-Quba. You wouldn't believe how green the dome is."
Khalid tries to imagine a green that's brighter and greener than any other green, but he can't. Green is just another color to him.
Tariq tells him about the sacred places of Islam, especially Medina, where the Prophet Muhammad is buried. But they are places Khalid finds it hard to care about. His curiosity sometimes closes down when he reaches these bits of Tariq's e-mails. The places that interest Khalid are cold and isolated, like remote parts of Iceland and the Arctic. Countries with few people and loads of floating icebergs would suit him. He hates being hot. Greenland, for example, he'd love to go there.
Plus he hates being preached to. It annoys him because it makes him feel he's back in school, not at home chatting to his cousin. Tariq's only two years older than him, yet sometimes he treats him like a little kid. For a start, Khalid doesn't know where any of these places are. He's only been to Pakistan once, and that was eleven years ago, to see Uncle, his mother's brother, who moved there from Turkey. He hadn't met Tariq, who was staying with his grandmother at the time. All Khalid could remember was the heat and the dusty roads, plus the curved gold sword on the wall in Uncle's living room. It's not much of a memory.
He's never been to Karachi to visit Dad's sisters. But he imagines it to be just as boring as the small town near Lahore where Tariq and his family still live.
The bits of Tariq's e-mails that really interest Khalid are about computer games, and now that Tariq has invented a game of his own, Khalid can't get enough of their online sessions.
"Khalid's actually touch-typing now. You should see him," Dad boasts to anyone who'll listen. Mostly, that person is Mac, their Scottish neighbor from number 11, with daughters the same age as Khalid's sisters. "He types faster than the wind." Mac pats Khalid on the head whenever he pops round, which makes everyone laugh. Then Dad and Mac wander outside to talk about petrol gauges, drive shafts, tuning, or something else that the rest of them don't care about.
Mum hurries Aadab and Gul to get in the bath and the kitchen falls silent. Always the best time of day for Khalid.
The barrage of words from Tariq begins the moment the kitchen door closes and Khalid is at last alone in front of the computer, which takes up all the space on the smaller corner table.
"Hi, cuz," the e-mail starts. "I haven't had time to look at Rochdale Football Club's results for Saturday. How did they do?"
"It was a draw—a bit of a tough game," Khalid fills him in.
"Which means they have to win the next match or they'll be in danger of being relegated, yeah?" Tariq types.
"Looks that way." Khalid sighs as he waits for Tariq's response.
"What a shame for Rochdale. The only real lesson I learned today is that no matter how much you learn there is always more to find out. Reading many books has shown me how little I know about anything! And I thought that match was going to be a sure-fire thing. For something happy I will tell you what I have been doing today ..."
Khalid rushes through the news about Tariq's Arabic lessons. Scrolling quickly down the page to the bit he wants. Leaning forward, elbows on the table, to grab every detail.
From the very first sentence, "Latest game news," Khalid hangs on every word of his cousin's ideas and plans, whether he understands them or not.
"I haven't decided what to call it yet," Tariq begins, "but I think six characters placed in different countries would be the best. Then we can have multiple players online at the same time dissing each other. What do you think?"
"Yeah, six would be brilliant," Khalid types quickly. "It's gotta have a real cool name, though!!!!"
Khalid doesn't notice time passing as he reads about the complexity required to implement the programming language. Plus the goals, rules, mathematical framework Tariq's been working on to put the game together make it sound as if his invention is going to be even better than Counter Strike. Khalid loves Counter Strike, a war-based shooting game that he plays at Nico's place on his console. One team are the terrorists and the other are the Special Forces who have to sneak in and defuse the bomb. Tariq and Khalid both love playing Grand Theft Auto too, getting an adrenaline rush from blowing stuff up and stealing cars. Starcraft, the online strategy game set in space, is their favorite at the moment, but they chat about loads of other games while Tariq finishes off his own invention, which doesn't have a name yet. It's going to be basic, but it's much more fun knowing that it's their own private game.
These e-mails make Khalid feel so much better that he forgets about giving Dad the letter from school. Then the door opens and Mum silently crosses the kitchen to pluck something from the fruit bowl.
"It's half past seven. Get off the computer, Khalid!"
It's always the same. There's never enough time to talk to Tariq. Reluctantly, Khalid quickly types, "Later, cuz!" and then closes the computer down.
"Nations around the world are strengthening their anti-terrorism laws. Pakistan is providing America with more military bases and airports to use for its attack on the Taliban," the newsreader states from the TV in the living room.
"Haven't you got any homework to do?" Mum sighs.
"I can't work with the TV on in there," Khalid says.
"Oh, that's a good one." Mum refuses to be taken in by his excuse for a moment, then gives him an only-kidding smile before heading back to the living room and shutting the door behind her.
Dragging his school bag to the table, Khalid is soon absorbed in Galileo.
Galileo, the genius who knew everything about astronomy and mathematics. He even managed to improve the telescope. Khalid sits back and folds his arms. How did Galileo know the telescope needed improving? Thinking about this makes his mind go fuzzy. There's so much to take in and most of it Khalid has to read twice before it makes any sense at all. One thing Khalid's sure of, though, is that Galileo is way cool. Everyone throughout history knew that. He even took on the Catholic Church.
"We're all part of this misery." Dad pops his head round the door to get a glass of water. Khalid doesn't know what he means or what he's talking about. Nor does he ask. But he thinks about it for a moment. That's Dad all over. He says things you can't pin down, which is a major part of the problem between them. How exactly is Dad going to react when he hands him the letter? He just doesn't know.
The thought flashes through Khalid's mind that his friends, if they were here, might think Dad was a bit weird saying something like that out of the blue. But then his family aren't what people suppose they are. Mum has never worn the veil and neither did her mother in Turkey, where she was brought up. Maybe Dad was referring to the fact there has been more hostility in the neighborhood lately towards Muslims. Though Khalid hasn't been called any names, or been punched or anything, a couple of the Muslim guys at school said they felt totally unsafe being out at night now, while before 9/11 they had felt fine.
Excerpted from Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera. Copyright © 2009 Anna Perera. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted July 16, 2011
This is a powerful story. The author has taken the events of 9/11 and shown us how the events thereafter were just a horrific. Khalid is a fifteen-year-old boy in England. He and his family go to Pakistan to help his aunts find a place to move. His father ventures off to look at a rental and doesn't return. His mother sends Khalid to the same address to look for his father. He doesn't find him. On his way back to his aunt's house he is caught up physically in a demonstration. He manages to make his way back to his aunt's home. Later that evening men in black break into the house and kidnap him. He is accused of being a terrorist and eventually sent to Guantanamo Bay. His family has no idea at first what has happened to him. The book details his abuse and torture while imprisoned. It seems obvious the author of the book did not like the Bush administration. I can overlook that in this book. What I could not overlook was the fact that although this book is fiction, we know that young innocent children and teens were abducted and accused of being terrorists and sent to Guantanamo. We also have knowledge of the humiliation, abuse and torture that took place. The author was not afraid to speak out about these atrocities. If we hide things like these from our children then they will repeat our mistakes. This is a bitter pill to swallow. However, I remember my parents telling me about the Japanese-Americans being sent to interment camps here in the United States. We learned nothing. After 9/11 we looked at people of a different nationality and different religion and decided, or judged them based on those two factors. Although I would not recommend this to my sixth graders because of the graphic nature of it, I would recommend it to seventh grade and up. The book has a timeline of events in the back, several sources to check the information and the most wonderful questions. To me the questions were so thought provoking that they could be used not just for this book but for the topic of terrorism and family and many other things. This has been one of the better books I have read this summer. It is not a light read. It stands at over 300 pages and reads quickly, but the topic itself is heavy. I found myself crying often at the injustice. The author definitely has a way with words to say the least.
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Posted November 25, 2012
Posted September 23, 2012
Guantanamo Boy is about a 15 year old boy from Rochdale, England named Khalid, who happens to be Muslim. He's lived there his whole life with his overworking dad, his mum, and his two sisters. He's never been to Pakistan or Turkey where his family originally came from, so when his father says they're going to Pakistan all he can think of are the kidnappings due to the 9/11 attacks. He wasn't there long until he was kidnapped and questioned by the CIA, only to be sent to the ruthless prison in Cuba, Guantanamo Bay. I would give this book a 3.8/5 because some of the story line was difficult to follow, and keep up with, but I did enjoy the way the vast historical reference mended with the fiction plot. I would recommend this book to anyone with a good sense of adventure and knowledge because there is always something exciting happening. I would not recommend this book to young readers or quick readers because sometimes you have to reread a part to understand it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 28, 2012
he events of 9/11 caused a lot of different emotions from not only the U.S. but worldwide. The war on terror caused several different countries to react, set new laws and regulations and safety measures. This story begins in the U.K. 6 months after 9/11.
There is really not much to say about what happens in the story that the summary does not cover. It is a good source of trying to help understand how things can go wrong. I believe that I read that this was based on a true story. It would be a good source for students, or those just interested in Guantanamo Bay and looking for a good story. It's heart breaking and will make you think. A great book for discussion groups or book clubs, it's full of great discussion topics.