Book Review

Guantanamo Voices By Sarah Mirk

Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Genre: Nonfiction, Journalism, Anthology, Graphic Novel
Pages: 208
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Guantanamo Bay is often regarded as the world’s most infamous prison. Some believe it to be a place of unspeakable suffering that America continues to justify. Others hold firm to the belief that those held in this former refugee camp are criminals who deserve to remain there. But what was it like for the soldiers, prisoners, and lawyers who worked closely with this infamous prison?

Sarah Mirk, a multimedia journalist whose work focuses on sharing diverse human-focused stories, shows us what it was like by detailing nine accounts from inside Guantanamo Bay. From the conflicting emotions of those who worked at the prison, to the abuse and daily struggles of the prisoners as they fought to return home, to the lawyers and advocates who fought day and night to free them, this anthology strives to provide readers with a nuanced perspective of one of America’s most complex and controversial institutions.

Thoughts

I came into this book with my own opinions on Guantanamo Bay already formed and fully expecting this book to agree with them—as such I was pleasantly surprised when this book not only subverted my expectations, but left me questioning my views. Sarah Mirk’s diverse collection of interviews allowed this book to address all aspects of Guantanamo Bay and brought a humanizing element to a story that is often viewed in black and white terms. I firmly believe that anyone, whether in favor of Guantanamo Bay or not, could benefit from reading Guantanamo Voices. Those who believe that Guantanamo Bay is a prison for only the worst of the worst would greatly benefit from hearing the story of Moazzam Begg, a Guantanamo prisoner who was held for three years without ever being charged with a crime while his wife and children were left behind. By the same token, those who condemn those who work within Guantanamo would benefit from hearing the story of Matt Diaz, a Navy Veteran who struggled with his duty as a soldier and his personal belief that what they were doing in Guantanamo Bay was wrong. Regardless of belief, Guantanamo Voices is written so that anyone can gain perspective into the controversial history of Guantanamo Bay.

One of the more unique aspects of this book is that it is written in a graphic novel format. This uncommon format for a nonfiction book is utilized to show the different perspectives of each interview, as each section has a slightly altered art style to reflect the different perspectives. This gives each interview its own sense of storytelling, allowing for the distinctions of each person’s story to shine through. This style also allows for a visualization of the treatment of the prisoners, allowing for some truly heartbreaking scenes. The one that sticks with me the most is from Moazzam Begg, who was imprisoned while his wife was three months pregnant. He breaks down crying after a soldier informs him that his wife gave birth without him present, and the imagery in the scene is incredibly powerful.

The first and last chapters of this book detail Sarah Mink’s personal trip to Guantanamo Bay. While not as emotionally stirring as the other stories told in this book, it does provide a look into Guantanamo Bay today. The secrecy and isolation of the base helped me to understand the isolation described in the interviews, and showed just how frightening Guantanamo Bay really could be. These sections also helped establish Sarah Mink’s journey from hearing about Guantanamo Bay to interviewing those who were involved, and finally visiting Guantanamo herself. Her personal journey comes full circle within these two chapters, giving the book a sense of narrative rather than just consisting of a collection of interviews.

Guantanamo Voices fully embodies the complicated factors that lead to places like Guantanamo Bay. It tackles the fears created by 9/11, the pain of the prisoners who lost decades of their lives, and the struggles of those on the outside to spark any policy change. I rarely step outside of my personal tastes in books, but I am so glad that I did, because Guantanamo Voices‘s human perspective on an often controversial and divisive topic truly touched me, and I look forward to seeing what other topics Sarah Mirk may choose to address.


Thank you to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC
in exchange for this honest and unbiased review.