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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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"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"
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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
There are two memoirs here, told in alternating chapters, first from Garen, who recounts the terrifying experience of being kidnapped; and then from his fiancee, Marie-Helene Carleton, who had returned to the States before the kidnapping, on the rescue efforts from New York. The chapters alternate until the story is finished.
The story is neither a tragedy nor a comedy, although it could have been either. The authors concentrate on the personal details of their experiences, the helplessness, the fear, the anxiety near the edge of sanity. I was struck with how personal the war became to Marie-Helene Carleton once her beloved Micah had been kidnapped. Too bad it isn't that personal to all of us. Is that what it takes to understand what it means to invade another country? All too often the war is merely a show on television until someone we love is in danger, and then the sheer inhumanity and madness of war become real.
I was also struck by the virtual helplessness of the US government. Obviously the US cannot negotiate with kidnappers. To do so would only invite more kidnappings. Furthermore, from the point of view of Carleton, who was co-ordinating the rescue efforts from New York, even involving the US government, and especially the military, was not an option, at least not openly, since such involvement might further endanger Garen. Prior to the kidnapping the two authors preferred to be recognized in Iraq as French rather than American, since the French had fewer enemies in Iraq.
The book is a little too long. The detail from New York, while fascinating in some respects is utterly ordinary in others, and could easily have been contained. On the other hand, the detail of Garen's day-to-day life as a captive could have been given even more light, except of course he was not able to take notes or to record his experiences. He had to recall after the fact all the details. Since Garen was constantly under the threat of death (a brutal video beheading seemed entirely possible), it is surprising that he was able to recall as much as he did.
Also both Garen and Carleton are very young. Their sense of what happened to them is without the sort of distillment that will emerge later, or that would come from people more seasoned. In this regard, I was struck by the restrained heroics and quiet wisdom of Amir Doshi who helped to keep Garen sane, and who actually endured a more brutal ordeal, physically speaking. There was a certain timelessness in the way Amir bore the suffering and the terror that would not be possible for someone younger and less experienced in the world. Additionally, Doshi's character, that of an optimistic, educated and secular Iraqi, served as a shining example of how to behave with grace under pressure.
This is not to denigrate Garen or Carleton. Carleton in particular was heroic in her fanatical and laborious efforts to save her fiancé, while Garen managed to survive, with dignity and his own style of grace, an ordeal that few of us would even want to contemplate.
Finally I would like to add my own note of irony. If there is a producer somewhere who would like to make this story into a movie, I really do suggest comedy, a romantic comedy in which the kidnappers are bumbling peasants, the politicians helpless bureaucrats, the Islamic clerics filled with the power of their eminence, and the two young people desperately in love, but kept apart by confused armies blowing each other up for no apparent reason. Romantic comedies traditionally end in marriage, and we have on page 259 a very sweet proposal.
By the way, it is remarkable that Garen and Carleton do not in the slightest betray even an inkling of political or religious bias in the book. I couldn't tell from reading this book who they voted for in the last presidential election or whether they think invading Iraq was a good idea or not--well, the destruction of war would not appeal to them, that's for sure. And, true a Halliburton subsidiary is noted as contaminating an archeological site (p. 107); but on the other hand, White House neocon, Paul Wolfowitz, is asked to help in the rescue effort.
There are some germane and illustrative black and white photos in the middle of the book, and there is a glossary and a helpful map in this attractively edited and clearly-written memoir.