Steven Galloway, the author of “Cellist of Saravejo”, described this book by Stephen Dau, as a “powerful and stunning debut.” The theme is similar, but darker than David Eggers’ novel, “What is the What”. Here the refugee is the product of a U.S. military action gone awry, rather than the Sudanese civil war. Each reflect failed assimilation. Welcome to America becomes the parody of cultural disconnection in spite of best intentions. Jonas is an onion whose depth of emotions are peeled as more of his memories are revealed. There are a multitude of other perspectives plowed: the U.S. soldier; the soldier’s mother; Jonas’ U.S. foster family; Jonas’ Indian girlfriend; Jonas’ court-mandated counselor. The world creates a lot of lost souls every day.
The book is quick read and I look forward to Mr. Dau’s next work. It is best to write about what you know and his background working in postwar construction and international development lends credibility to his characters. The setting in America is Western Pennsylvania, where the author came from.
There is one passage that resonated with me as I was reading this book during and after the tragedy at Sandy Hook. It is words of the U.S. soldier talking about firepower; although it is in a military context.
“You probably know a little bit what it’s like. If you’ve ever shot a gun, even if you’ve ever used a slingshot, or a bow and arrow, anything like that. You see something out there, a bottle, or a tin can, something far away from you, something that looks to be totally unconnected to you, and you aim at it, pull the trigger, let go of the stone, and the thing you aimed at explodes, disappears.
Now, imagine that times a hundred, times a thousand. We use really big guns. Bombs. Mortars. It’s alluring. That’s power. Real power. You see a car out there, you see a truck, you see a building, you see a whole fucking village.