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Guantanamo Kid, as stated by the title, relates the story of a kid that grew up in Guantanamo. At only 14 years old Mohammed el Gharani, under the false accusation of tides with Al Qaeda, was imprisoned. He then spent nine years in different prison camps, suffering torture, cruelty and deprivation, told with a simple, honest and direct language, matched by linear and expressive black and white drawings.
This story could be considered a coming of age story, but it is a coming of age that denies the course it should have. While imprisoned, Mohammed cannot be anything but a detainee anymore and is forced to grow up in conditions no one should ever be in. The consequences of his nine years as a detainee are permanent, not only physical ones, permanently changing the optimality of his body, but his living condition as well. At the end of the graphic novel, we have the impression that for Mohammed Guantanamo it will never end. At the end of the story he still has not found ‘a place where he will no longer be seen as a suspect’, and we get the wrenching feeling that a place like this may never exist and that looking for a new place might be insufficient and. As Mohammed himself says, he needs ‘to make his life better where [he is]’.
Guantanamo Kid is, last and foremost, a story about endurance: in all those 9 years spent in prison, the protagonist never ceased protesting for better conditions and believing in the possibility of a better life, at the point of faking his smile and happiness to annoy the guards and not letting them see his grief and anguish. He says to them that ‘if you treat us as human, human beings, we will treat you as human, human beings’, highlighting the mutual respect needed in human relationships. Even if imprisoned, he can complete his formation and education, learning English and keeping his creativity and spirit always alive, writing songs and poems as hymns of freedom and mocking of the guards. His endurance is also sustained by his faith, that he never loses, believing that ‘in Guantanamo God was testing [them]’.
The page I found to be the most significative and representative of the whole novel is a relatively marginal one. While in Guantanamo, at some points the guards cover the prisoners’ windows with brown tape ‘to prevent the daylight coming in from outside’. Isolation and impossibility of knowing what is happening in the outside world are one of the most dehumanising tortures the detainees are subjected to, and blocking the light is preventing any crumbs of the outside world from reaching them. But one day ‘a woodpecker came and pecked and pecked until it broke the tape and made a hole big as a coin’. That hole is the only contact with the sun, the sky, the outside and, every time the guards cover it, the woodpecker makes it again, letting the sun stream through it.