In a recent story in the New Yorker, published well into the controversy surrounding former IMF president Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s alleged rape of the Sofitel housekeeper Nafissatou Diallo, reporter Suketu Mehta follows an African asylum seeker (the country isn’t specified) through her application process. “Caroline,” or “Cecile,” works at a Manhattan supermarket under another person’s social security number: “Caroline was living three lives: as Cecile Diop, a woman with papers who had been in the country for ten years; as Caroline the African rape and torture victim; and as herself, a middle-class young woman who wanted to go to college and make a life in America.” It is, writes Mehta, “a continuous exercise in willed schizophrenia.”

Through the course of the article, Caroline develops and tells to an immigration officer an ultimately convincing story about her beating and rape by government soldiers in her home country. It never happened—Caroline tells the reporter that she was never raped, though her brother was beaten and she was threatened; her parents, supporters of an opposition leader in her country, were targets of government repression. The story Caroline puts on her asylum application is false; but then, she thinks, so is everybody else’s: “Everybody’s story is a mixture of what is true and what is not,” says Caroline. She thinks that embellishing her application is the only chance for her to stay in the country. Mehta writes: