This is the horrifying maelstrom that swept up and displaced Chol-wdwuok and his extended family and would, nine years later, land him in a Kenyan refugee camp south of Lokichogio. Chol-wdwuok was a young boy at the time, young enough not to have been conscripted as a child soldier by the SPLA, which routinely took children as young as 13. Of course, this brutal massacre was but one act in a much longer play, namely the Second Sudanese Civil War which raged between the SPLA and the Sudanese government, which in 1991, was represented by the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation (RCC) under General (and President) Omar al-Bashir.
The Second Sudanese Civil War was one of the longest civil conflicts on record, lasting 22 years from 1983 to 2005. Angels in Swollen Crises is a compelling nine-year thread (1991–2000) woven through the tattered fabric of bloody events that blanketed the region like a shroud. It is a story of unbelievable hardship and dislocation, following its narrator from childhood to young adulthood.
Chol-wdwuok was born in Jonglei State, South Sudan, in 1986, the eldest of Willow and Magak’s five children. His family scattered all over the State, when he was 5 years. In 2000, he moved to Kenya for education. There, he attended Kakuma Refugee school––––Fashoda Primary School where he got a Jesuit Refugee scholarship to Katilu High School, Kenya. After graduating from Katilu High, he applied for and got into World University of Canada, WUSC scholarship to University of British Columbia, UBC where he attained his Bachelor Degree in Mathematics and Economics.
The author had at least three strikes against him as a youth: that name, Clarence, in his tough neighborhood humiliated him; he was short and thin which made him an easy mark for neighborhood bullies. Bad enough, there was the Fat Man, Fathers nephew who came to live with the family during the Depression until he could get on his feet financially, but he never left. The Fat Man was a cynical, faultfinding person who seemed to target Clarence with criticism mostly because Clarence tended to argue and fight back. But thanks to his father and mother, good old-fashioned, Old Country Christians, Clarence acquired what he called a beacon to distinguish right from wrong that influenced him to lead a straight life. His behavior was affected by a combination of positive and negative responses, but mostly his determination to fight back, to try harder to prove himself, helped him succeed in the difficult life that he led.
Outside the home, there were two very positive influences that gave Clarence a goal in life. There was Mrs. Lowe, the grade school librarian who persisted in getting Clarence to read. It wasnt easy for her, but she put a book in his hand, and he opened it, and suddenly that fantastic world of books took hold. Clarence couldnt get enough books to read. The more he read, the more he wanted to improve his knowledge and education. Book stories fueled his imagination and opened the door to a fantasy world where heroes always won, and good triumphed. It influenced his personality. It also energized his creative mind. His own stories came to mind. And it was a second dedicated teacher, Mrs. Gabrielle, who took him in hand and encouraged Clarence to write. He then knew that what he wanted most out of life was to become a writer, and he had a goal, which he pursued.
There were the Depression years that toughened people to hardships, and Clarence tried early in life to get work, any kind of work to help provide income for the family. He had that work ethic that employers recognized so he always had someone wanting his services. In those years before self-service markets, Clarence clerked for a grocery store, learned how to deal with people, and he learned an important lesson. When employers see you working is when other job offers come up. Work produces work.
Then came World War II. Clarence enlisted in the Navy. He served on four ships that took him to different lands to see different people. His third ship was sunk off of Ansio, Italy, and he barely survived. His fourth ship he saw being built in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. His ship, the PGM-30, a gunboat, was in Okinawa where the Japanese were determined to fight to the death, inflecting heavy wounds to our Navy. The PGM-30 was part of an invasion fleet awaiting action in the invasion of Japan, that American planes dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and suddenly the war was over.
After the war, there was a quandary in Clarence: what to do for a living? His goal of becoming a writer was stalled, at age twenty-six. Here another helpful person persuaded Clarence to go back to school. Back to college among young teenagers fresh out of high school was embarrassing, but Clarence persisted, earned hi
In January 2012, having covered a Somali pirate trial in Hamburg for Spiegel Online International—and funded by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting—Michael Scott Moore traveled to the Horn of Africa to write about piracy and ways to end it. In a terrible twist of fate, Moore himself was kidnapped and subsequently held captive by Somali pirates. Subjected to conditions that break even the strongest spirits—physical injury, starvation, isolation, terror—Moore’s survival is a testament to his indomitable strength of mind. In September 2014, after 977 days, he walked free when his ransom was put together by the help of several US and German institutions, friends, colleagues, and his strong-willed mother.
Yet Moore’s own struggle is only part of the story: The Desert and the Sea falls at the intersection of reportage, memoir, and history. Caught between Muslim pirates, the looming threat of Al-Shabaab, and the rise of ISIS, Moore observes the worlds that surrounded him—the economics and history of piracy; the effects of post-colonialism; the politics of hostage negotiation and ransom; while also conjuring the various faces of Islam—and places his ordeal in the context of the larger political and historical issues.
A sort of Catch-22 meets Black Hawk Down, The Desert and the Sea is written with dark humor, candor, and a journalist’s clinical distance and eye for detail. Moore offers an intimate and otherwise inaccessible view of life as we cannot fathom it, brilliantly weaving his own experience as a hostage with the social, economic, religious, and political factors creating it. The Desert and the Sea is wildly compelling and a book that will take its place next to titles like Den of Lions and Even Silence Has an End.