August 30, 2004 12:00 PM

By Lorraine Adams

Desperate to escape his violence-plagued homeland, 24-year-old Aziz Arkoun, the Algerian refugee at the center of this mesmerizing first novel, arrives in Boston in the late ’90s after 52 days in the hold of a ship. Delirious, he swims ashore in icy water—only to find a world that is hardly less brutal than the one he’s left behind.

Veteran Washington Post investigative reporter Adams masterfully conveys the shock of landing in America with no green card, no English, not even a change of clothes. Aziz, who finds work as a dishwasher, is a peaceable fellow, but he soon finds himself guilty by association. The feds begin investigating his roommate Rafik—a compatriot whom Aziz fears maybe selling drugs, or worse—and the innocent Aziz is suspected of having terrorist ties. As the investigation (set in the months preceding 9/11) unfolds, it becomes clear that finding the bad guys is far from an exact science, and Adams demonstrates how frighteningly easy it can be to be suspected of conspiracy where there is none. A timely and grippingly written book, Harbor helps give the war on terror a human face.


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