“Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.
With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.”
Samira Ahmed’s Internment is one of those rare works of fiction that hits a little too close to reality. Although it’s technically set in a not too distant future, it’s almost like it’s set in an alternate present. Our current political system is already putting undocumented immigrants in concentration camps. And given the dangerous rhetoric being pushed out by the administration around Islam – not to mention the Muslim bans already in place – the move to Muslim internment isn’t that much of a stretch.
Layla is a hero worth rooting for, but Ahmed keeps her grounded in reality. She’s clever and intelligent, but definitely not a superhero. Even though she has a small connection to the outside through a double agent and her white boyfriend, she is as trapped as everyone else. As much as Layla stands up to her oppressors, she also understands her lone actions cannot stop systemic oppression, not without help from both her own Muslim community and non-Muslims. After all, she is only a teenager. I don’t mean that dismissively; teens can accomplish a helluva lot. But she is just one piece in a very large system. To dismantle that requires help from all sides, help she’s willing to accept. She isn’t the Chosen One, but a girl with guts and drive.
Most of the novel takes place in a new camp built next door to Manzanar, one of the most well-known Japanese-American internment camps in California during World War II. There, Muslim Americans cannot access any news from the outside world and are trapped under the unmitigated cruelty of the camp director and his white henchmen. Some Muslim internees are also turned into enforcers – one family leads each “neighborhood” and use enticements to enforce compliance – but this doesn’t quite get enough nuance. We needed more on why they were working with the director and how those agreements were made. Were they forced to comply? Are they exempt from prosecution? How do they feel about the situation? Layla’s block captain is an asshole and his wife seems put-upon and conflicted, but they just aren’t shaded out enough for the eventual climax between Layla and them to mean much.
But that’s minor quibble in the face of an excellent novel. The writing is sharp and visceral, with a tone and pacing that makes it impossible to put down. Internment is exactly the book I needed right now. It’s a powerful novel, full of strife and fear and courage and resistance. Rebellions are built on hope, but they’re fought with the belief that we can be better than we are.
I don’t measure time by the old calendar anymore; I don’t look at the date. There is only then and now. There is only what we once were and what we have become.
Two and half years since the election. Two years since the Nazis marched on DC.
Eighteen months since the Muslim Ban
One year since our answers on the Census landed us on the Registry.
Nine months since the first book burning.
Six months since the Exclusion Laws.
Five months since the Attorney General argued that Korematsu v United States established precedent for relocation of citizens during times of war.
Three months since they started firing Muslims from public sector jobs.
Two months since a virulent Islamophobe was sworn in as Secretary of War—a cabinet position that hasn’t existed since World War Two.
One month since the President of the United States gave a televised speech to Congress to declare that, “Muslims are a threat to America.”
I thought our little liberal college town would fight it longer, hold out. Some did fight it. But you’d be surprised how quickly armed military and pepper spray shuts down the well-meaning protests of liberals in small, leafy towns. They’re still happening, the protests, turned riots, even if the mainstream media won’t cover them. The Resistance is alive, they say, but not in my town, and not on the nightly news.
Do the world a favor and buy this from an indie bookstore or borrow it from your local public library.