Two Blankets, Three Sheets

Another name for a passport? "That book without any poetry at all." When Iraqi Samir Karim lands in Amsterdam to request asylum, his first stop is the bathroom--to flush his documents down the toilet, at the outset of Rodaan Al Galidi's exceptional Two Blankets, Three Sheets. What follows is an updated Catch-22, replete with life-or-death stakes, absurd rules and mindless enforcement, tracing Karim's nearly decade-long limbo treading in the choppy waters of a Dutch Asylum Seekers' Center (ASC).

Having fled war-torn Iraq to avoid service in Saddam Hussein's army, Karim recalls, "During the bombardment of Baghdad, when heaven and earth had become one great hell, I once watched a father try to convince his frightened child of about five that what he saw was really just fireworks." Even as he loses fellow asylum seekers to suicide, family to illness and relationships to cultural misunderstanding, Karim manages to adopt the same approach, reframing his circumstances to mine lessons, or laughs, from the painful. (A typical quip: "Being late in an ASC is like a fart in a bubble bath.")

Born in Iraq, poet and writer Al Galidi became a Dutch citizen after a protracted, precarious wait, during which he taught himself Dutch and won the European Union Prize for Literature. His story, and the trenchant, critical Two Blankets, Three Sheets, reveals just how selectively people are permitted to traverse the world. Stories like it will hopefully help that world become more empathetic--and a lot funnier in the meantime. --Katie Weed

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