In This Review

Two Blankets, Three Sheets
Two Blankets, Three Sheets
By Rodaan Al Galidi
World Editions, 2020, 400 pp

The author of this best-selling novel, translated from the Dutch, emigrated in 1998 from Iraq to the Netherlands to avoid military service. He then spent nine years in a Dutch government-run housing center as an undocumented asylum seeker. He was denied citizenship but taught himself Dutch and published a book in 2009 that was awarded the EU Prize for Literature. His newest novel is an account, by turns comic and heart-rending, of an applicant’s interaction with the asylum apparatus in the Netherlands. The asylum seeker arrives a trusting person, assuming that acceptance is just around the corner. Officials welcome him with two blankets and three sheets and tell him that he must constantly report those items’ location—a first hint that he is actually stuck in a Kafkaesque world of seemingly arbitrary legalistic procedures, in which truth is subject to bureaucratic whimsy. Day to day, he is treated much like a Victorian schoolboy, subject to petty humiliations and punishments. Some asylum seekers in Europe wait for decades for legal status, enduring a series of determinations designed to make asylum more difficult to obtain. No other book I have read makes the soul-destroying effects of European asylum procedures more vividly clear than this one.