- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; First Edition edition (November 13, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1443402052
- ISBN-13: 978-1443402057
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #925,581 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Season In Hell Paperback – November 13, 2012
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“A page-turner from beginning to end. . . . A tale of courage and human triumph.” (The Globe and Mail)
“Vital reading.” (National Post)
“Fowler has captured the terror of his ordeal in direct, rich, and vibrant prose. . . . A riveting narrative about an experience many others would not have survived.” (Lt.-Gen. the Honourable Roméo A. Dallaire (Ret.), Senator)
“What a remarkable book this is. The writing is clear, compelling, visceral . . . The story leaves you gasping . . . It’s been eons since I’ve read a work of non-fiction where every page grabs your heart.” (Stephen Lewis)
“A story of courage and determination in the face of fear and terror; a story of international political intrigue where the personal and political stakes could not be higher. . . . [Fowler] is among Canada’s most distinguished heroes.” (James Orbinski, MD, author of An Imperfect Offering and Chair in Global Health at the University of Toronto)
“Through this fascinating account of his time spent in gruelling captivity, Robert Fowler shows us the power of the human spirit in the face of adversity and danger.” (Kofi A. Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations (1997-2006), Chairman of the Kofi Annan Foundation)
“An engaging, clearly written story: subtle, informative, at times very moving, but never maudlin.” (Literary Review of Canada)
“The book reads with the tension and pacing of a fictional thriller. . . .Fowler’s gripping account, from the moment of his abduction, is astonishingly detailed, at times chillingly detached and at times heart-wrenchingly moving.” (Jury Citation, the B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction)
About the Author
ROBERT R. FOWLER joined the Department of External Affairs in 1969 and was posted to Paris in 1971 and to the Canadian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in 1976. He returned to External Affairs headquarters in 1978 to become executive assistant to Allan Gotlieb, the under-secretary of state for External Affairs. In 1980, he was seconded to the Privy Council Office as assistant secretary to the Cabinet (Foreign and Defence Policy), where he served as foreign policy advisor to prime ministers Trudeau, Turner and Mulroney. In 1986 Mr. Fowler became assistant deputy minister (Policy) in the Department of National Defence, and then he served as deputy minister from 1989 to 1995. From 1995 to 2000 he was Canada’s longest serving ambassador to the United Nations, following which he was named ambassador to Italy and also personal representative for Africa for prime ministers Chrétien and Harper. Fowler lives in Ottawa, Ontario.
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Top customer reviews
I recommend this book for many reasons: the subject matter, the description of the kidnapping and the captors, the physical geography of the region, and the political, religious and social implications for all of us.
I'm glad I did.
Its a very readable and informative book.
It was nothing like my time in Northern Nigeria, which was because thankfully I had no contact with Al Quada
Thankfully, a lazy Day 1, Day 2... diary format is avoided. Instead, events or themes are covered over the pair's months `en brousse', while fending off the malice, provocations and mind games of their captors, as well as navigating their own inevitable mood swings. Some like to dismiss AQIM and similar groups as mere criminals enriching themselves from smuggling and kidnapping. If that's the case then Fowler's abductors, led by Moktar bel Moktar (`MBM', who went on to organise the deadly gas plant raid in Algeria in 2013) put up a convincing performance refuting that. It may have only been driven by competitive piety, but all of the ragged jihadists tried to convert the two diplomats to Islam while at `Camp Canada'. Vigorous religious debates dominated the gang's discussions, rather than which Rolex they'll buy with their share of the loot.
Throughout this episode Fowler and Guay were put to the test, but both astutely deployed their had-won diplomatic nous to help lessen their misery, as well as using other methods to maintain morale. One topic I thought oddly absent was any obsessive discussion over food. Some emotionally sensitive subjects were proscribed, but you'd think the harmless pleasure in food fantasies would be fun.
After months of hesistant negotiations, unexpected gifts, hurried relocations and calls home, somewhere in the desert the two Canadians are finally handed over to shady mediators. With them are two desperately emaciated European women, kidnapped by a rival gang whose brutal leader is deeply unsatisfied with the settlement. In a tense denouement the two AQIM emirs face each other down, but MBM prevails. The jeeps speed south towards diplomatically staged photo calls, long-overdue ablutions and happy family reunions. The book ends with a warning that action must be taken against the scourge then besetting northern Mali (in January 2013 the French led Operation Serval invaded the area). There's also an unapologetic swipe at the way the RCMP handled Fowler and Guay's abduction.
For some the elephant in the room is the matter of ransom payment - denied by the Canadian government. Fowler says he was kept in the dark but elucidates in appropriately equivocal terms: `... there tends also to be a difference between what governments do and what they say, and this seems to me quite reasonable... Many countries adopt what are more or less pragmatic approaches while others proclaim immutable doctrine, but I know for certain that everybody has blinked at one time or another...'
Wikileaks since revealed that AQIM prisoners were released and 700,000 paid, thus prolonging the scourge. The conduit for the cash was the then convenient treasury of Ghadafi's Libya, in return for unspecified concessions.
It's sometimes thought that publicity bans are put on freed Saharan hostages (nearly 100 in the last decade) by their governments; perhaps a condition for covering the usually denied ransoms. If that was the case with Robert Fowler, he ignored it. `A Season in Hell' illustrates his desert captivity in vivid detail, including as far as they could gather, the motivations of the people who abducted them. It might even be read as a manual on how to cope with such an experience. However you choose to take it, it's highly recommend. (Long version with more background at deserttravels.wordpress.com).
by Robert Fowler
Robert Fowler has written a unique account of what it is to be a captive of Al Queda. Unique, because Fowler is the highest-level representative of western governments ever to be taken by Al Queda. Also, because his background as a diplomat, senior government official and UN representative was precisely keyed to the menace of islamist terrorism; he knows his subject.
Fowler, together with his colleague Louis Guay, was sent as the official representative of the UN Secretary General to encourage peace talks between the rebel Taureg movement and the government of Niger. He soon realized that this was a 'Mission impossible' - not because the rebels were not ready to deal, but because the government of Niger was exploiting the rebel problem to maintain its hold on power.
The book explains in painful detail the treatment he was subjected to for four months in the Sahara desert, the motivation of his radicalized captors and the perfidious actions - as well as the heroics - of the various actors involved. Fowler `gets' the big picture, and explains it in terms that provide a wake-up call to both the threatened governments of the Sahel region and the western governments that must support them.
Many books have been written by and about kidnap victims; this victim has survived to tell the tale in terms that are alarming and informative, but in the end a credit to the best instincts of survival.