Rodaan Al Galidi’s new novel – based on his own experiences of seeking asylum in the Netherlands – is one of those stories that grabs your attention with its clever cover and captivates you within seconds of turning to the first page.
With its engaging, humorous style, Al Galidi’s story of his nine-year wait in a Dutch asylum centre after emigrating from Iraq – told through the eyes of his protagonist, Samir – could read like a fictional account invented purely for entertainment. But bubbling beneath the surface is the harsh brutality of the asylum system and the enormous sacrifices and struggles suffered every day by those who are desperately in need of help. The story is not recounted in a linear way – instead, Al Galidi jumps back and forth in time, perhaps mirroring the confusion he feels and his struggle to come to terms with the injustice and absurdity of his situation. The characters that pop up along the way are brought to life expertly in Jonathan Reeder’s translation, transporting the reader to Iraq, the Netherlands and beyond.
‘So the Dutch people who passed us that day became irritated, because we rode [our bicycles] very slowly, and if Abdulwahid had soaked his tyres in white paint, the line he left behind would resemble a cardiogram. Sometimes they would shout, “Hey, watch out!” or just give us dirty looks, although they could just as well have had a little chuckle about the Yemeni man trying to become a Hollander.’
Al Galidi deftly depicts the marked cultural differences between the many countries visited by his protagonist on his asylum seeker’s journey, not to mention the impenetrable bureaucratic systems of the western world. For readers like me, from this world, this is an eye-opening and essential story and one that I can only recommend.
Reviewed by Alyson Coombes
TWO BLANKETS, THREE SHEETS
Written by Rodaan Al Galidi
Translated by Jonathan Reeder
Published by World Editions (2020)
Buy this title through the European Literature Network’s The Dutch Riveter bookshop.org page.
Alyson Coombes is a freelance translator and editor. Her co-translation Eichmann’s Executioner by Astrid Dehe and Achim Engstler was published in 2017 by The New Press. She works with New Books in German and the European Literature Network to help find and promote the best contemporary European literature in the UK, and is currently working with the Queen’s College Translation Exchange to set up a new translation prize for schools.
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