With echoes of Catch-22 and Black Hawk Down, author and former hostage Michael Scott Moore masterfully walks a fine line between personal narrative and journalistic distance in this page-turning and novelistic account of 977 days held captive by Somali pirates.
Moore set off for Somalia in January 2012 after reporting on a historic trial of ten Somali pirates in Germany. He went with an open mind and a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. He knew the stories of poor fishermen whose livelihoods were threatened by international fishing vessels; he sympathized with the legacies of colonialism. Near the end of his trip, however, a gang of pirates captured him and demanded a ransom of twenty million dollars. Moore would be stuck in Somalia for more than two and a half years, shifted from camps in the desert bush to barren prison houses, and—for several months—he was held on a hijacked tuna vessel, where he would make friends with a crew of hostage fishermen.
As the only Western journalist to witness everyday life on a ship captured by Somali pirates, Moore recounts his dizzying ordeal as a rich and surprising story of survival. After a daring but desperate attempt to escape, he struggles with murderous fantasies as well as thoughts of suicide. Some of his guards—happy to have an American to taunt—suggest his long captivity is payback for the Battle of Mogadishu, the basis for the book Black Hawk Down, more than two decades before.
In the face of threats to kill him, or sell him to al-Shabaab, Moore maintains his humanity and his sardonic wit. He relates his captivity with calm detachment, brilliantly weaving his own experience as a hostage with the religious and political factors behind Somali piracy. His wide-ranging narrative brings us into the destitute lives of his guards, as well as memories of his father’s self-destruction. The Desert and the Sea falls at the intersection of reportage, memoir, and history, and it will take its place next to titles such as An Evil Cradling and Even Silence Has an End.