ADDRESSES: Home—Washington, DC. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Knopf, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Concord Monitor, Concord, NH, reporter, 1983-84; Dallas Morning News, Dallas, TX, reporter, 1984-92; Washington Post, Washington, DC, reporter, 1992-2003.
AWARDS, HONORS: Pulitzer Prize, 1992, for investigative reporting.
Harbor (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A novel.
SIDELIGHTS: Lorraine Adams is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has now turned to writing novels. When she worked for the Washington Post she was assigned at one point to cover the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Justice Department. One of the stories involved a terrorist plot planned by Algerians in Canada who sent one man over the border into Seattle with a trunk filled with explosives destined for the Los Angeles International Airport. Believing this action to be part of a much wider plot, the FBI launched what was at that time the largest counterterrorism investigation ever conducted in the United States. Adams said in a question-and-answer article on the Random House Web site's Borzoi Reader section that this "was to be an anatomy of a counterterrorism dragnet."
Adams examined how the FBI handled counterterrorism investigations, and she became involved with Algerian communities in the United States and Canada in order to assess the FBI's effectiveness and the impact of its investigations on Muslims. She found that while innocent people were scrutinized, the harder-to-track guilty went undetected. Adams had to earn the trust of the Muslim people to do her research. She took classes in Arabic and made herself visible in their communities. As a woman, she had to overcome prejudice, but word spread that she wanted to hear not only their stories connected to the FBI investigation, but also stories of why they left Algeria, which made these people more receptive to her. Adams was contacted through calls from pay phones, restaurants, and from federal jails. Her experiences gave her the background and understanding that enabled her to write her first novel, Harbor.
The protagonist in Harbor is Aziz Arkoun, a young, bearded Muslim man who escapes terrorism in his own country by coming to the United States as a stowaway. He arrives in the late 1990s after enduring fifty-two days in the hold of a tanker. Aziz dives into Boston Harbor bleeding and wearing rags. He swims ashore to begin a life in Boston at a variety of jobs that include gas station attendant, dishwasher, house painter, and deli worker. His new friends include his roommate, Rafik, who plasters the walls of his apartment with Madonna posters, has an American girlfriend named Heather, deals in stolen goods, and introduces Aziz to the Boston nightlife, which they enjoy in shoplifted suits. Others in his group include Ghazi, an educated architect who washes dishes and suffers from depression, which he deadens by watching Al Pacino movies and reading the Koran. Aziz's brother, Mourad, obtains a green card, finds a good job, and begins to live the American dream. They are basically good men, but they are surrounded by others who are not, and who deal in drugs, smuggling, credit card theft, and fraud; their lives also intersect with those of the jihadists.
Neil Gordon noted in a review for the New York Times that it is understandable how Adams's experiences influenced her "meticulously constructed first novel." "What's harder to explain," continued Gordon, "is how Adams is able to draw so convincingly into the lived reality of her ensemble cast, a skill that derives less from the craft of journalism than the art of fiction. These characters are the product of a virtuoso act of the imagination, one that reminds us of fiction's deepest ambition—to understand the other. That the other is, in this case, a group that Americans have so long failed to understand makes Adams's novel not only engrossing but important." Gordon concluded by writing that Adams "vividly captures the humiliations that are so plentiful in the harsh life of illegal immigrants, conveying its painful anonymity." "Harbor," he added, "is a remarkable act of artistic empathy. It takes us far beyond journalism to dramatize not just the awful nature of our strife-filled world but also the hopeless complexity of its ethical and cultural roots."
Joseph Finder wrote in Washington Post Book World that Harbor "is no apologia for terrorism. Adams is far less interested in the making of a terrorist than in exploring her characters' inner lives. The elegant architecture of her narrative is designed to illustrate the clash of cultures, the way we fail to understand Islamic immigrants just as surely as they're unable to understand us. In fact, it's barely a novel about terrorism at all. Instead, it is firmly rooted in the rich tradition of the immigrant novel, the novel of America as seen through alien eyes."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, July, 2004, Debi Lewis, review of Harbor, p. 1815.
Entertainment Weekly, August 20, 2004, Jennifer Reese, review of Harbor, p. 129.
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2004, review of Harbor, p. 503.
New York Times, September 5, 2004, Neil Gordon, "Under Surveillance," review of Harbor.
People, August 30, 2004, Margaux Wexberg, review of Harbor, p. 50.
Publishers Weekly, June 14, 2004, review of Harbor, p. 41.
U.S. News & World Report, September 13, 2004, Ulrich Boser, review of Harbor, p. 56.
Washington Post Book World, September 5, 2004, Joseph Finder, review of Harbor, p. 3.
Borzoi Reader,http://www.randomhouse.com/knopf/catalog/ (February 17, 2005), "Author Q & A."
Miami Herald Online,http://www.herald.com/ (August 29, 2004), Amy Driscoll, review of Harbor.