Blurb: Based on the author’s true story, this is the account of Iraqi refugee Samir, who spends nine years in an asylum center in the Netherlands.
Amsterdam Airport, 1998. Samir Karim steps off a plane from Vietnam, flushes his fake passport down the toilet, and requests asylum. Fleeing Iraq to avoid conscription into Saddam Hussein’s army, he has spent seven years anonymously wandering through Asia. Now, safely in the heart of Europe, he is sent to an asylum center and assigned a bed in a shared dorm—where he will spend the next nine years. As he navigates his way around the absurdities of Dutch bureaucracy, Samir tries his best to get along with his 500 new housemates. Told with compassion and a unique sense of humor, this is an inspiring tale of survival, a close-up view of the hidden world of refugees and human smugglers, and a sobering reflection of our times.
Two Blankets, Three Sheets manages to be heartbreaking, horrifying and yet humorous, sometimes all within one anecdote.
The book tells a fictionalised memoir of the author’s experiences in an asylum centre in the Netherlands, in the format of anecdotes about his fellow asylum seekers interspersed with flashbacks to his life in Iraq and then travelling around Asia.
If you’re expecting gritty horror then you would be (mostly) wrong. Aside from some bleak details about war and discussion of suicide amongst refugees, the majority of the horror the author captures here is the soul-destroying daily despair that comes from a combination of stifling bureaucracy and the kind of unsympathetic attitudes you can only get from pleasant, ordinary people who are ‘just doing their job’.
If you take one thing away from this book, it is a stark reminder to treat every single person you encounter throughout every minute of your days as an individual, a human being, a person with their own feelings and struggles that you cannot possibly know. Language is not the only barrier to communication – there is also the lack of desire to really listen to what someone is trying to say.
The book does not ‘bash’ the social workers or refugee centre employees involved, but shows that they too are human, with their own quirks and struggles. The problems are an inherent result of the system they all find themselves in, and the author is as quick to mention the frustrations the staff must feel at times as he is to detail the trials of the residents.
That said, the author balances the tone and pace perfectly here. He does not allow the reader to become mired in guilt and reproach, but instead gently ushers you on to the next day, next encounter, next wait with the unfailing humour of an indomitable spirit. Somehow he finds the funny side of even the most serious situations, and shows that however bad things get, there is still hope in those around you and in your own strength to survive.
Recommended for anyone interested in current debates around immigration and asylum, Rodaan Al Galidi adds an important perspective to the table and does so in an entertaining format.
“You have to take care, Mr Karim,” she said, “this is your future.” With the word “this” she picked up the report from the first hearing. I was amused at the idea that my future would be determined by a few sheets of paper, and not by my health, my happiness or my dreams. Or a never-ending barbecue on the beach, or travelling the world on a legitimate passport.
– Rodaan Al Galidi, Two Blankets, Three Sheets
RODAAN AL GALIDI is a poet and writer. Born in Iraq and trained as a civil engineer, he has lived in the Netherlands since 1998. As an undocumented asylum seeker he did not have the right to attend language classes, so he taught himself to read and write Dutch. His novel De autist en de postduif (‘The Autist and the Carrier Pigeon’) won the European Union Prize for Literature in 2011—the same year he failed his Dutch citizenship course. Two Blankets, Three Sheets, already a bestseller in the Netherlands, is his most successful novel to date.
Jonathan Reeder, a native of New York and longtime resident of Amsterdam, enjoys a dual career as a literary translator and performing musician.
Two Blankets, Three Sheets is available on Amazon right now!
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