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“How did Samuel die, and why? Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s portrayal of the deceitfulness of memory and testimony is as enthralling as a thriller. But the novel is also a love story and a tale of violence, unforgivable betrayals, and the power of economics. An unconventional narrative structure where several different voices paint the portrait of the protagonist. All written in a sophisticated, toned down prose, where the shadowy existence of undocumented immigrants and criminals collide with the sunny world of privilege in a ruthless and hectic Stockholm.”
Who is the unnamed writer? Piecing together the events leading up to the unexpected death of a young man named Samuel. From those who knew him best?
Killed in a car crash before the novel starts readers are unsure if it was a car accident or a planned suicide. This man had many faces. Samuel was different. Puzzling. Contradictory.
The neighbors. Friends. Relatives. Strangers. Flatmate/Best Friend, Ex-Girlfriend. Reconstructing Samuel’s last day. Appears someone is writing a book. A mom’s emails. A son. A Grandmother. Samuel listened without listening.
Confusing in the beginning, who is driving the story, and who is telling the story?
Alternating between flashbacks and flash-forwards, by Samuel, Vandad, and Laide. Samuel and Laide met through their work, with the Migration Board, dealing with residency permits, and she is an interpreter of Arabic and other languages.
Laide is also an activist who participates in demonstrations against anti-immigration policies and who establishes, in a house vacated by Samuel’s grandmother, a shelter for women, many of them abused, who have fled the Middle East. Samuel’s grandmother, who suffers from dementia, has moved into a nursing home.
Vandad, who, it appears, may be gay and attracted to Samuel, is a large man who works as an enforcer for a loan shark. He tries more legitimate employment as a mover without much success. When Laide breaks it the relationship, Vandad, attempts to persuade her to reconsider.
The grandmother’s house is soon overrun with refugees, a fire starts, and Samuel’s despair mounts as his family questions why he allowed this to happen, and he himself wonders why he trusted Laide.
From immigration -related issues, elder care, abuse, unemployment, dead-end jobs, drugs, and racial prejudice. Love and memories. What do people say? What is really true? Who is to blame? One person’s fault, or more?
He was born, he lived, he died. Puzzling, Mysterious, Intriguing. An author asking questions.
Is everyone lying? Decide for yourself. Betrayal. Extortion. Love. Guilt. Memories of the last day. A partial picture —lies, distortion, and deceit. Subjective Truth vs Objective Truth.
Khemiri presents Samuel's story in an unconventional unique format. Pieces of interviews are layered sprinkled with short sentences and a few paragraphs at a time. The narration shifts constantly from person to person. Stories overlap, and the truth feels elusive. Impressions, like the narrators, are unreliable.
Moving, emotional and witty. Focused on death yet mixed with humor and mystery. As a reader, you feel as though there is a literary ghost spying on everyone. Can words be trusted? The accident is in slow motion. Thoughts, feelings. In the end, their memories, both genuine and false, are all of him that remain.
Gripping, beautiful and heartbreaking.
Readers will think in some ways: Sarah Koenig’s Serial, Making a Murderer, In Cold Blood- Truman Capote, Fatal Vision-Joe McGinniss, The Journalist And The Murderer-Janet Malcolm, Columbine-Dave Cullen, The Stranger Beside Me-Ann Rule, The Good Nurse-Charles Graebere, and God’ll Cut You Down-John Safran.
These books reveal the power of true-crime writing, pushing the boundaries of the journalist-subject relationship, examining the ethical conundrums inherent in the genre, crafting precise and insightful character studies, and even sometimes allowing for the ultimate reader let-down: an ambiguous conclusion. (which is quite popular today).
Readers will be debating, speculating, and comparing theories. Like Serial, how much of our interest is in the truth and how much in a satisfying narrative? Interpretation. Crime always risks exploitation — of the victims, the accused, and families torn apart by the crime — Sometimes there is potential for discovery and redemption.
"In 2013, Khemiri’s open letter to the Swedish Minister of Justice in response to a controversial police project rapidly became one of the most shared articles on social media in Swedish history."