Centaurii Publishing (2015)
Reviewed by Kristine Hall for Reader Views (02/16)
In “Remain Free,” author Gautam Narula chronicles his unlikely friendship with death row inmate Troy Anthony Davis, who was convicted in 1991 of murdering a police officer three years earlier. When Narula was just fifteen, he learned of Davis’s case and the doubt surrounding his guilt. Moved by what he heard and read, Narula wrote a letter to Davis, which began a relationship that would span three years and included written correspondence, phone calls, and even death row visits between the two. As inmate and teen get to know each other, Narula becomes passionate about saving Davis’s life and Davis becomes a source of advice and encouragement as Narula navigates life as a teenager. In “Remain Free,” Narula has compiled and shares letters, transcripts of phone calls, conversations, and memories of visits the two shared while also providing a record of his own actions to free Troy Davis from what he feels is a wrongful death sentence. “Remain Free” is not just a recounting of the politics, harsh realities, and humanity of Troy Davis, it is the personal story of a young man’s disillusionment with the legal system and society in general, and how he is driven to change the world.
Regardless of a reader’s opinion on the death penalty, “Remain Free” is thought provoking and in bringing out Troy Davis’s personality, Narula humanizes the people on death row. The book is as much about Gautam Narula as it is about Davis and definitely provides a perspective on the case that can’t be found anywhere else. As a platform for casting doubt on Troy Davis’s guilt, the most convincing element is Narula’s belief in Davis’s innocence. He provides Davis’s firsthand account of the night of the murder as well as the recantations of witnesses, the most startling being that of witness Antoine Williams:
“They asked me to describe the shooter and what he looked like and what he was wearing. I kept telling them that I didn’t know. It was dark, my windows were tinted, and I was scared. After the officers talked to me, they gave me a statement and told me to sign it. I signed it. I did not read it because I cannot read.”
Who knows if Troy Davis was really an innocent man? There are always two sides, but Narula includes some compelling details for readers to think about, casting doubt on Davis’s guilt and whether or not he got a fair trial.
As the portrait of a teenager, Gautam Narula is not your average young adult and is contemplating things that many thirty-year-olds haven’t managed. In being exposed to the ugliness of prison life and life’s injustices and feeling the weight of Davis’s world, Narula becomes disillusioned and rejects the expectations and norms of a typical high schooler’s life. Instead of concentrating on going to prom or preparing a good college resume, he pours his energy into things that matter like Amnesty International and campaigning to free Troy Davis. There are the rare occasions when Narula shows his age, but for the most part, he shows intellect and maturity well beyond his years and even notes at one point, “Maybe my anxiety about the future was robbing me of the present.”
Gautam Narula is clearly an exceptionally good writer; however, the book needs editing to clear up issues including typos, pronoun and punctuation errors, and repetitive content which made it seem like he wasn’t giving the readers credit for remembering what he has already told them. Additionally, the story doesn’t always move chronologically, which is sometimes confusing, and some of the stories go into so much detail that they are distracting and tedious.
Overall, the book is intriguing. The Troy Davis portrayed by Gautam Narula was thoughtful, intelligent, and deeply spiritual. When asked why God allows bad things to happen, Davis told Narula, “God gave us free will, and if He always cleaned up our messes, we would never grow. He allows us to live with the consequences of our mistakes so we can learn from them.” Whether Davis was authentic or not, there is no denying that Troy Davis made a positive impact on the life of one teenager, which resulted in one teenager wanting to make a positive impact on the world -- including designating all publisher and author profits from “Remain Free” going to The Innocence Project.