Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Interview with Author Alex Gilvarry

Alex Gilvarry is the author of From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant and the founding editor of the website Tottenville Review. He's written for The Paris Review and other publications. From the Memoirs is his first novel and he joins us today for a brief interview. He can be found online at
1. What inspired you to write From the Memoirs of a Non Enemy Combatant? What issues were you trying to get at it?
The imprisonment of men without due process, particularly those in Guantanamo Bay. I think novels can still incite change, or change the way we think. Or at least they can be a big doorstop of a reminder that things need to change. 
2. What kinds of reactions have you had to the book? When I met you at your Cambridge reading with Liz Moore, the crowd seemed confrontational and even a little rowdy. Do you have any stories from the road- odd encounters at readings, etc.- that you’d like to share with my readers?
Ha! That's Cambridge for you. Our readings here can get rowdy. But it's the non-fiction writers I feel for. They get it the worst. I think at the reading you attended at Porter Square Books, it was suggested that I was a Nazi sympathizer for using a quote by Coco Chanel as the epigraph to my novel. I fumbled the question a little because who would ever expect to be linked with the Nazis at their book reading. But the quote is a good one for our time. "Since everything is in our heads, we had better not lose them."

 3. Why did you present Boy as essentially a dupe? Should it matter to the reader if he’s innocent or guilty? Are the tactics used against him in prison more or less acceptable based on his innocence or guilt?
It was important to me that he have a certain naivete to the character for him to be real. I think one of the pleasures of this book and books like it are for the reader to determine Boy's level of guilt or innocence. And it changes with every reader, every experience.
4. What kinds of research did you do for the book? At your Cambridge you mentioned reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago; how did that book influence yours?
That book is at times a moment to moment telling of what it's like to actually be in a Russian prison. This was something I had to imagine--being in prison. And it was something I had trouble with. So books were the only thing that helped create that. I read several books worth noting, and I recommend them to anyone with a further interest in the situation in Guantanamo or simply American injustice. The Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side by Clive Stafford Smith, Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power by Joseph Marguiles. Five Years of My Life, Murat Kurnaz. All very powerful and infuriating. The villain in all of these is us. But I also studied the prison novel as told by Kurt Vonnegut and Max Frisch.

 5. Do you consider writing to be a political act? Is this book political?
I think writing is both a moral and a political act, and that this should be exercised much more than it has been in literary fiction today. Maybe it's not the same as it was in Solzhenitsyn's day--because books are no longer the dominate medium. But HBO is certainly not going to deliver the next Catch-22 or the next Gulag Archipelago, because television--while it may be called the "new novel" even by many novelists--abides by investors and advertising. It's still primarily entertainment, where as the novelist answers to no one but his own moral compass.

Thank you Alex for this great interview- and book! Read my review of From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant here.


caite said...

Guantanamo Bay and Solzhenitsyn's Gulag? Really? Really??
Sorry Mr. Gilvarry, you may have written an interesting book but I am not buying the comparison.

Zibilee said...

This was a really interesting interview, and though I don't know much about the subjects under discussion, I am about to do some googling to find out more. It does sound as if the crowds he encounters are a little rowdy at times, which I can imagine might be a little intimidating!

bermudaonion said...

Wow, that's some pretty hostile book events. I'm very curious about the book now.