A young boy sits in a restaurant surrounded by displeasing mundanity, absorbed in a horrific scene just across the street, yet neither says nor does anything about it. The opening scene of Scott Carrier’s latest collection of essays, Prisoner of Zion: Muslims, Mormons, and Other Misadventures, shows us that some of the darkest, most evil things are seen in broad daylight, for that is when things are seen with the greatest clarity.
Prisoner of Zion traverses a lot of territory, from angry backcountry skiing in White Pine Canyon to a troubled crossing through the Salang Tunnel in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan, from confronting the ugliness of human trafficking in Cambodia to a frightened rock singer in Burma. This book is not safe—it places you in the mud, the dust and the cold in horrific circumstances where there are so many body parts it is hard to distinguish them from bricks after a wall has exploded. You are not protected by your television screen.
Angry and rich, there is a distance in Carrier’s writing, although it is never flat. At first, I attributed the disassociation to journalistic technique. But halfway through the book, when Carrier is describing his return to Salt Lake City and the culture shock of reentry, he defines the assimilation of what he has experienced by what can be named and described and what cannot. He says the things he can’t name, “stay inside and you live with them, like shrapnel; your body grows around them.” It is these unnameable things that are the cause of his distance and disassociation as a writer.
I want to corner someone and talk about this book, about where it leaves you when you’re finished. I want dialog, to hear what others think about the harsh realities on the page and what words were left out. Not that there are any holes in the narrative. No, the holes are in your soul. Post your comments below, and let’s start a dialogue.
Donnae Tidwell is a Librarian and Nonfiction/Graphic Novel Selector at Salt Lake City Public Library. To find this and other similar books in our catalog, or to find more info on The City Library's programs and services, visit slcpl.org.