Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - Nonfiction
As a reporter for Spiegel Online, Michael Moore covered a piracy trial – the first held in Germany in over four hundred years. What he learned piqued his curiosity to know more about Somali pirates, so he accompanied Ashwin Raman, a documentary maker and war correspondent for German TV, to the Horn of Africa in 2012. At the time of their arrival, the pirates held more than 700 sailors captive. They mostly hailed from Asian countries and were often referred to as the “forgotten hostages.”
The journey cost several thousand dollars for two weeks and a Somali elder from the same town as many of the pirates on trial arranged for Moore’s and Raman’s protection during their stay. Having dual citizenship, Moore traveled under a German passport, but was also an American. All went according to plan until one conversation with Somalis mentioned a pirate lord who wished to kidnap him. It was just a rumor, perhaps spread to raise their anxiety, but an incident soon after convinced both men it was time to go home. But Moore hadn’t yet interviewed any of the pirate defendants’ families, so while Raman prepared to leave Somalia, Moore decided to stay just a few days longer to conduct the interviews. Instead, he was forced to remain in country for nearly three years.
The ambush occurred soon after he left the airport following the departure of Raman’s plane. Moore was yanked from the car, beaten, his wrist broken, his glasses lost, and his belongings taken. The threat of dying became a constant. He was awakened during the night and moved from one location to another – sometimes staying in dilapidated houses, other times in the bush or on a captured vessel – while enduring sickness, beatings, chains, malicious guards, a thorough regulation of his daily life, few comforts, and a total inability to understand why. Although there were periods where he was the only hostage, he also spent a lot of time with a kidnapped Seychelles fisherman named Rolly Tambara, who became his best friend and often warned, “Do not make them angry, Michael.” (11) Yet small defiances, hope of rescue or escape, friendship, and a desire not to end up like his father helped Moore endure.
The Desert and the Sea is principally an account of Michael Moore’s time as a pirate captive, and yet it is so much more. He introduces readers to Somali culture and history, from colonial times to independence to devolution into a war-torn country rife with poverty and anarchy. This book is not just his story; it is also about other hostages, including those with whom he spent time and others rescued or lost during his captivity. More importantly, he shows the psychological, physical, and emotional impacts of long-term captivity, as well as the after effects he and other captives experienced following their releases. At the same time, he discusses growing up in California and coming to terms with his father’s suicide. He also recounts the often unseen side of kidnappings – what the victims’ families experience and the frustrating process of negotiating with pirates who demand exorbitant ransoms, such as the $20,000,000 they demanded for Moore’s release.
This is an up-close-and-personal, harrowing account of a pirate captive. Perhaps because he entwines confinement with personal episodes from his past, we get a miniscule taste of what he experienced in a way that makes it all too real. We also come away with an inkling of just how long 977 days under the constant threat of loss of life and liberty must have felt like. It is equal to other such accounts, yet it is also unique and unforgettable. As gritty as desert sand and as salty as the sea.
Book Review Copyright ©2018 Cindy Vallar
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