I can’t stop thinking about this book.
I’m going to need to read it again. And again.
I’m going to be sharing it with everyone whose hands I can put it into.
Because I need to talk this through.
We read fiction to learn how to be human. In these pages we see both the deep human capacity to love and protect, and the similarly large capacity to be hateful…or perhaps worse, to simply turn away. The background details of this novel are plucked straight from our headlines. At times I was taken aback by how on the nose it felt. (I should be taken aback. That’s part of the point.)
Because in these times, we are all being tested. Only in brief moments do most of us even realize it. Because for many of us, despite the headlines, our lives go on. We carry on with the daily ups and downs, things that feel like triumphs or terrors. I, for one, am guilty too often of turning away from the headlines that, for me, are news…but for others are life. As I read, I couldn’t help calling to mind the phrase, ‘banality of evil.’ One of the most terrifying thoughts as I read various scenes in Internment was how ordinary people simply following along could contribute to such injustice or allow it to continue unabated. The woman who had baked cakes for Layla’s family celebrations might be anyone we encounter. The young men in the National Guard could be from any of our communities. The onlookers turning away from an unsettling scene could be us. Our country’s shameful involvement in interring non-white people, including citizens is not old news from a bygone war. As Ahmed points out, brown children have very recently been held in cages and camps. We may have joined the temporary outcry while the headlines flashed across our screens, but how many of us have sustained our outrage? I had to look up Tornillo, Texas today to find out if it was still open. I didn’t know.
Many in the edu community have been talking about the need to refresh the canon. If you’ve been looking for a piece of literature that invites readers to think deeply, to wrestle with big ideas of humanity, to make meaningful connections not only to life but to other notable works of literature, poetry, and philosophy, one that nudges us to reexamine our understanding of history, then this book is more important in this moment than any book in the canon. Students and teachers need to read this book. Communities, citizens, leaders…humans need to read this book and to grapple with all that it raises.
“The people united will never be divided.”