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American Hostage: A Memoir of a Journalist Kidnapped in Iraq and the Remarkable Battle to Win His Release Paperback – November 9, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Moving and suspenseful, this account of a journalist's ordeal as a captive in Iraq recounts the machinations behind a delicate hostage situation. Documentary filmmakers Garen and Carleton went to Iraq in 2003 to investigate reports of looting at archeological sites. Near the end of their project, Carleton returned to New York City, leaving Garen to complete the final stages of filming in the southern city of Nasiriyah. Everything seemed to be wrapping up smoothly until, two days before his scheduled return to America, Garen was identified as a foreigner in a crowded marketplace, and he and his Iraqi translator were kidnapped by a local Shi'ite group. Garen's first-person account of their time in captivity alternates chapters with Carleton's story of how friends and family rallied at home and abroad to jump-start a rescue effort, even before the FBI got on the case. Carleton details the effort's minute-by-minute reversals and its many risky decisions in crisp, straightforward prose that will soon have readers commiserating with her highs and lows. For his part, Garen recalls his fear, anger and confusion with clarity and immediacy, never demonizing his captors yet never condoning their acts. One of the book's great pleasures is the description of his friendship with his translator, Amir, an educated, secular Muslim. Even readers who followed the story in the newspapers will find much that is new since so many of the crucial negotiations happened off the front page. And with a romantic subplot humming through the tension, this story is made for the silver screen.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Gripping... Their story remains extraordinarily compelling. An incredible tale told with intensity."
"-- Kirkus" (starred review)
"An astonishing read. What unfolds from the terrifying drama of Micah Garen's kidnapping by Iraqi militants is a complete surprise: a moving, sympathetic portrait of Iraq and its people struggling against the chaos unleashed by the American liberation.American Hostage explores some of the darkest terrain in the human condition and emerges with hope still beating."
--Evan Wright, author of "Generation Kill"
"In this chilling tale of Micah Garen's captivity and his loved ones' fight for his release lies a simple but eternal truth: love can--and will--push through all that hate just as surely as blades of grass through a sidewalk."
--Deborah Copaken Kogan, author of "Shutterbabe"
Top customer reviews
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Micah Garen, an American journalist covering the looting of the ancient ruins of Iraq with his partner/lover Marie-Helene Carleton, was kidnapped with his translator Amir on August 13th, 2004. Garen relates the issues leading up to the kidnapping, and the daily hardships and terrors while under guard with his good friend Amir, until their release August 22nd, 2004 - nine days and nights filled with despair, terror, suffering, political manipulation, yet with the indomitable human spirit that allowed them to survive. During the time Garen and Amir were in captivity, Carleton did amazingly courageous acts of spirit and fact from her home in New York to guarantee that the two men would survive and be released. That story is important enough and intensely interestingly enough to make the book work.
But the joy of reading AMERICAN HOSTAGE is in part due to the diary-like mode of writing: Garen makes entries like a diary listed by day and Carleton mirrors those entries with her won responses from New York. In addition to unfolding the terror of the kidnapping, Garen gives diversions of background of the life of a journalist, his important successes in reporting the looting of antiquities, the responses of the people on all sides of the festering carbuncle that is the situation in Iraq, allowing us full range of exposure to all sides of the matter. This is not only excellent journalism: this is information we rarely encounter in the media.
The clear writing style and the clever manner of relating this important event are accompanied by photographs of the 'cast' of characters - an aspect that for this reader lowers the quality of the overall impact. It is fine to see the handsome couple on the cover jacket, but reducing the images included in the text to snapshots of Sumerian bricks, 'hijab' garb, 'keffiyeh' and 'dishdasha' costume elements, the blindfold worn during captivity, palm frond spikes, etc. makes an otherwise intensely interesting novel-like memoir appear like a simple scrapbook. But that is a small complaint for a book as well written and as fascinating as this. Recommended for all those who want a better idea of how the situation in Iraq is progressing. Grady Harp, June 06
Both Garen and Carleton had gone to Iraq to shoot a documentary about the widespread looting taking place there, at some of the most significant archaeological sites in the world. Both authors share their experiences in this regard, and it is an important subject - important enough for both of them to risk their lives to document it - but I really don't have enough space to discuss it here. Carleton returned home, but Garen chose to stay two more weeks in order to film the new city guards that were set to begin protecting the site at Umma. Their months-long stay overlapped with the transfer of power to Iraqi authority in mid-2004, which turned out to be a most dangerous time, as fighting broke out between Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and coalition forces. On August 13, Garen and Amir Doshi, his friend and translator, traveled to Nasiriyah, where they were kidnapped from the market place and taken to the office of al-Sadr. From there, they were taken to a remote location in the marshes, their new home a small enclosure surrounded by a wall of date palm fronds jammed down into the earth. This certainly didn't fit my mental image of a hostage cell, but it gave them only the smallest glimmer of hope that they might be able to escape. Garen takes us through the daily routine that soon developed, the conversations he and Amir had with different guards (with different ones seemingly having different agendas), and brings home both the emotional and physical toll their captivity took on both men. All of the doubts, fears, internal debates, and fleeting senses of hopefulness are vividly detailed, giving one at least a sense of what Garen's ordeal must have been like.
Marie-Helene Carleton's story is, in some ways, more gripping and emotional than Garen's. While he at least had a minute-to-minute sense of what was going on, his family and friends started out with nothing more than the nightmarish report of his kidnapping. They had no idea if he was alive or dead, where he might be, or who might be holding him - and the question of the kidnappers' identity was of the utmost importance. It could be a group connected to al-Sadr, looters with a grudge against Garen's journalistic work in Iraq, common criminals, or al Qaeda. If Garen ended up in Zarqawi's hands, there was almost no chance of his coming home alive. Upon learning the horrifying news, Carleton immediately began working for his release. Along with the obligatory calls to government officials, she began reaching out to her own network of contacts both inside and outside of Iraq itself. Within hours, a small army of family and friends were hard at work, contacting anyone who might be able to help and fending off media inquiries left and right. Since they did not know who had taken Garen, they held off going to the media - under some scenarios, a personal plea from the family could be of great help, but in others it could contribute to Garen's death. Their fellow journalists, however, came to their aid in spades, with everyone contacting anyone they thought could help. Their greatest hope was that they could somehow get al-Sadr to release a statement calling for the hostages' release, but al-Sadr was pinned down at the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf at that time. The story of all of this behind-the-scenes work is fascinating and rather amazing, and there's even a twist at the end.
There are additional aspects to this story that I haven't even mentioned. The different goals of the men who held Garen and Doshi in captivity is perhaps the most striking - and revealing as to the nature of this turbulent time in Iraqi history. These men could be cruel, but they were a far cry from the brutal savages I would have assumed them to be. I should also note that there's really no political subtext to be found in this story, nor are there any claims of heroism. Garen, Carleton, and their loved ones truly come across as wonderful human beings, and the story is told in such a way that you feel as if you are witnessing all of these events and emotions first-hand. This is an informative, well-written, emotionally compelling read - and, best of all, it has a happy ending.