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This is great story telling. A riveting story of modern day piracy, a clash of cultures, people’s lives torn apart. The quality of the writing is not so great, and for that reason many will consider it not much better than an airport or pool side read, but in terms of being a page turner, it is right up there. It also raises a large number of issues that have become so much a part of our daily news – terrorism, piracy in the Indian Ocean, the might of the US government vs everybody else. As well as intangibles such as the basic human needs of justice and truth, the bonds of family, religion, and simple human decency.
Daniel Parker, a successful lawyer, and his 17-year-old son Quentin are most of the way through a world sailing trip on the family yacht Renaissance. Wife/mother Vanessa continues to live at their home in Washington DC, working as a doctor in the practice she founded. Quentin has not given his parents an easy ride through the teenage years, and this trip is an attempt by Daniel to re-bond with his son. The relationship between Daniel and Vanessa has also been sorely tested over the previous few years. The trip, so far, has been a fantastic success, with the Renaissance now off the coast of Somalia. So you already know what is going to happen next. A band of pirates, led by the young Ismail, hijacks the yacht and its two sailors. Isamil is a highly intelligent young man, in his short life having lived through violence and murder, been kidnapped himself and seen his family and life as he knew it torn apart. He has a sister, Yasmin, who has disappeared, her only link to the outside world a mobile phone she has managed to keep secret from those around her.
As news of the hijack leaks out in the US, the Navy, the Seals, and a hostage negotiator, Paul Derrick, are deployed to do their part in the rescue of Daniel and Quentin, as well as the apprehension of the seven hostage takers. Being a novel, things do not go to plan. About half way through the book, things take a decidedly interesting turn, with everyone out to protect and save themselves – the Navy, the Seals, the Parker family, Paul, Ismail and Yasmin. How these diverse elements and characters come together is gripping and very well done, if at times a little melodramatic in the telling. But, as I said earlier, the quality of the writing is surpassed by the quality of the story and the people who fill it.
So it is much more than an airport book shop read with a big glossy cover and author’s name in large letters. And at the end of it all, there is a serious message – we do actually have to learn to get on with our fellow human being, to understand them and their pasts, not just their immediate pasts but where they have come from. So the book isn’t really about Somalians hijacking foreign vessels, and the author makes this point in his notes. Piracy is his narrative framework for looking at the much bigger issue of the breakdown of Somalia over the past twenty years or so, and the lawlessness that has resulted from the ongoing civil war. It is tragic, and hardly surprising that the problems spill over into the Western world – after all Somalians really do have nothing to lose by taking the law into their own hands.
The author’s starting point for this novel was the 2011 hijack of a US flagged sailing boat, the Quest, in the Indian Ocean by Somali pirates. HIs ‘research odyssey’ as he calls it includes visiting Somalia, getting to know the people there, interviews with many US government officials, an FBI hostage negotiator, learning how to sail, staying on an aircraft carrier, going to the trial of the Quest hostage takers – immersing himself in these strange and different worlds. The result is this excellent story, well worth the effort. Part of his dedication at the beginning of the book is “For the jewel of the Indian Ocean, may you rise again”. And after finishing this book, you too may well hope for such an outcome.
Reviewed by Felicity Murray
The Tears of Dark Water
by Corban Addison
Published by Quercus Publishing Plc