There's no question that we need a novel like Lorraine Adams' HARBOR, an attempt to recount the experiences of a group of Middle Eastern immigrants in America pre-9/11. I admired much of the writing in this book, but I thought Adams' inability to bring life to her protagonist at certain key points prevented this book from fully working for me.
Some of the strongest scenes are early on, where Aziz (an ex-soldier from Algeria) jumps off a ship and swims into Boston Harbor. Of course, Aziz doesn't know the language and isn't in good health, and Adams does a wonderful job conveying his sensory disassociation from the world around him. Aziz never really loses that disassociation though, it's as if he spends much of the novel with earplugs on. Even when he's reunited with friends and later his brother, and begins to suss out what he thinks may be a terrorist plot, Aziz seems remarkably casual about what's happening. We also get flashbacks to Aziz's life in Algeria, where he - mistaken for another man - falls in with a band of mercenaries before escaping....again, Aziz seems carried along by events. Anyone not familar with Algerian politics will have a hard time figuring out some of these scenes.
I thought the end of the book was the weakest, as point-of-view ping pongs between several characters, including the FBI, and characters from early in the book are suddenly reintroduced.
Still, I think HARBOR is a very promising debut, and I hope Adams continues to tackle subjects of such relevance.